For the past four years the gas lobby has used the economic crisis in Europe to tell countries like Greece that the way out of debt and desperation is to open their beautiful and fragile seas to drilling. And it has employed similar arguments to rationalise fracking across North America and the United Kingdom.
Now the crisis du jour is conflict in Ukraine, being used as a battering ram to knock down sensible restrictions on natural gas exports and push through a controversial free-trade deal with Europe. It's quite a deal: more corporate free-trade polluting economies and more heat-trapping gases polluting the atmosphere – all as a response to an energy crisis that is largely manufactured.
Against this backdrop it's worth remembering – irony of ironies – that the crisis the natural gas industry has been most adept at exploiting is climate change itself.
Nearly half (47%) of oil and gas wells recently hydraulically fractured in the U.S. are in regions with high or extremely high water stress.
Ceres’ latest research on this topic, Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers, provides first-of-its-kind data on the various water sourcing risks facing oil and gas companies in 8 regions of intense shale development in the United States and Canada. It shines a spotlight on the volumes of water used for hydraulic fracturing by specific companies and puts regional industry water use into the context of local water stress, groundwater depletion and drought. It provides investors, lenders, and regulators recommendations for how oil and gas companies and their service providers can minimize their water demands and reduce their impacts on communities and the environment.
In late 2013, official documents obtained under freedom of information showed that Canada's domestic spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), had ramped up its surveillance of activists opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project on 'national security' grounds. The CSIS also routinely passed information about such groups to the project's corporate architect, Calgary-based energy company, Enbridge.
Fracking wells generally consume between 2 and 10 million gallons of water in their lifetime. If every potential well in California identified by the U.S. Energy Information Agency were to be fracked, some 5 billion gallons of water would be required, according to Oil Change International.
Polls show Californians oppose expanded fracking in the Golden State and 65 percent of Californians say the state should act immediately to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The companies that once operated the wells have all but vanished into the prairie, many seeking bankruptcy protection and unable to pay the cost of reclaiming the land they leased. Recent estimates have put the number of abandoned drilling operations in Wyoming at more than 1,200, and state officials said several thousand more might soon be orphaned by their operators.
Published in the journal Endocrinology, the study examined 12 endocrine-disrupting chemicals (both suspected and known) found in fracking fluid--which typically contains over 700 chemicals in total--in a lab. "We found that the majority disrupted estrogen or androgen signaling," says Susan Nagel, the lead author of the study and a researcher in obstetrics, gynecology, and women's health at the University of Missouri.
Next, the researchers took surface and ground water samples from areas near drilling accidents in the fracking-heavy area of Garfield County, Colorado. Compared to water samples in areas with less or no fracking activity, the samples taken from areas near Garfield's drilling sites had moderate to high levels of endocrine-disrupting activity, the study found. Samples from the Colorado River, which acts as a drainage basin for local drilling sites, also had moderate endocrine-disrupting chemical levels.
"We found about twice the amount of endocrine-disrupting activity in samples as we did in control samples," says Nagel. Keep in mind, these findings affect a lot of people--Garfield County has more than 10,000 active natural gas wells. Fracking sites are found in 17 states; since 2005, over 80,000 wells have been drilled or given permits.
Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4), a potent heat-trapping gas. If, as now seems likely, natural gas production systems leak 2.7% (or more), then gas-fired power loses its near-term advantage over coal and becomes more of a gangplank than a bridge. Worse, without a carbon price, some gas displaces renewable energy, further undercutting any benefit it might have had.
Fifteen scientists from some of the leading institutions in the world — including Harvard, NOAA and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab — have published a seminal study, “Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States.” Crucially, it is based on “comprehensive atmospheric methane observations, extensive spatial datasets, and a high-resolution atmospheric transport model,” rather than the industry-provided numbers EPA uses.
Environmentalists won’t stop the shale gas craze. Neither will federal regulators. But a lack of water could possibly do so. And that is why drillers are looking for new ways to find water supplies — or fresh water supplies would be jeopardized as a result of fossil fuel development.
Susquehanna is the poorest county in Pennsylvania, but it also has the richest deposits of natural gas.
When oil and gas companies came knocking, many people there saw dollar signs. For others, the cost was too high.
Susan Breese said her water is now contaminated.
“This is the water that I can't drink because it's been tested for high levels of heavy metals according to the [Department of Environmental Protection], you'd never know it to look at it because it looks clear,” she said.<
Breese and some of her neighbours are suing Southwestern Energy, the same company that's at the centre of the shale gas debate in New Brunswick.
Victoria Switzer said methane and other chemicals ended up in her water.
She can't drink it and she also can't talk about it because she reached a settlement with Cabot Oil. She said the promise of royalties has divided her community.
“If you took the money out of the equation here, I think there would be a lot more people that would be speaking out and horrified and so forth, but they have financial gain at risk,” she said.
Communities across the country are raising red flags because of water contamination, green house gas emissions and the impacts on public health. Despite this, industry is expanding across the country at an alarming rate. The fracker tracker is an interactive tool that maps where fracking is happening so communities can share information, learn from and join in fights across the country. Please note these map locations are approximate, if you have more detailed information to offer, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Not only has Southwestern Energy failed to hold the trust of the communities in which it enters, it also fails to acknowledge any responsibility for the leaks, spills, spews, and sediment-filled water that seems to surface during and after SWN has taken over a site. If hydraulic fracturing in fact has no negative implications on health and the environment, why is there a lack of air quality and water quality monitoring occurring throughout and following the process?
Rogers reveals how Wall Street drove the shale gas drilling frenzy by overestimating the amount of well returns, which resulted in prices lower than the cost of production for the operators who bought the drilling leases. Consequently, these operators borrowed millions of dollars on assets that either don't exist or may never be commercially viable to extract. Wall Street then also profited greatly via mergers and acquisitions and other transactional fees.
Rogers, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Energy Policy Forum, and a recently appointed primary member to the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative for the Department of the Interior, makes clear that the investment banks didn't do anything illegal in performing these shale gas transactions.
Her issue, she said, is that there's absolutely no way the banks didn't realize those wells weren't performing anywhere close to projected numbers.
"Everything they did before the mortgage-backed securities bubble was legal, too," noted Rogers. "And we saw the consequences of that. But that's another good argument for why we need financial reform."
What may be most troubling to analysts like Rogers, however, is that the shale gas bubble won't just hurt operators and their shareholders. They say American consumers are next in line.
Fracking is already rampant in Pennsylvania, but New York imposed a moratorium on the dangerous practice to assess the health and safety issues involved.
However, as OnEarth magazine reports, Sanford's town board is eager to allow oil and gas outfits to frack away. The board even leased land to one corporation that wants to drill inside the town. Last fall, Sanford officials went further, imperiously imposing a gag order on their own citizens. It seems that opponents of the profiteering frack rush were using the board's public comment session to…well, to comment publicly.
Irritated, the board decreed that any topic could be discussed at its meetings - except fracking.
The town leveled this autocratic restriction on people's democratic rights by saying that the ongoing discussion on fracking got in the way of other board business. But, gosh, that's the way it is in a democracy. The people themselves can dare to set the agenda by insisting that our local leaders discuss the big issues that matter most to our families and communities.
efore January 2011, Youngstown, Ohio, which is located on the Marcellus Shale, had never experienced an earthquake, at least not since researchers began observations in 1776. However, in December 2010, the Northstar 1 injection well came online to pump wastewater from fracking projects in Pennsylvania into storage deep underground. In the year that followed, seismometers in and around Youngstown recorded 109 earthquakes, the strongest registering a magnitude-3.9 earthquake on Dec. 31, 2011. The well was shut down after the quake.
Scientists have known for decades that fracking and wastewater injection can trigger earthquakes. For instance, it appears linked with Oklahoma's strongest recorded quake in 2011, as well as a rash of more than 180 minor tremors in Texas between Oct. 30, 2008, and May 31, 2009.
The new investigation of the Youngstown earthquakes, detailed in the July issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, reveals that their onset, end and even temporary dips in activity were apparently all tied to activity at the Northstar 1 well.
Rob Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke University, agrees with MacMillan's assessment. "Any flood that breeches a wastewater pit will flush the waste and contaminated sediments into streams and rivers. Another concern is pipeline ruptures for oil and gas lines," he wrote in an email.
Once contamination has occurred, the only way to clean it up is to dig up the affected dirt and send it to a landfill--a big problem if that dirt is on farmland, for example. If waste has reached water, workers have to continuously pump out water and test it for contamination until it finally looks safe. But that's not a foolproof method: Waste plumes don't stay in the same place, so it's always possible that tested water is fine and other water is not.
In a statement, Gary Wockner, of Clean Water Action, said "Fracking and operating oil and gas facilities in floodplains is extremely risky. Flood waters can topple facilities and spread oil, gas, and cancer-causing fracking chemicals across vast landscapes making contamination and clean-up efforts exponentially worse and more complicated."
Yet, in May and June 2007, fracking chemicals leaked into a 2-kilometre stretch of Acorn Fork Creek in Kentucky. The chemicals were being stored in surface pits, which overflowed. The creek turned acidic and all visible life forms died.
"This may be the first report of effects on aquatic biota," says Diana Papoulias of the US Geological Survey, who investigated the incident with Anthony Velasco of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Frankfort, Kentucky. They examined 45 fish from the polluted stretch, belonging to two species, and found severe gill lesions. Moving healthy fish into the leak zone caused them to develop lesions within hours (Southeastern Naturalist, vol 12, p 92).
Fracking company Cuadrilla Resources are trying to start drilling in Balcombe, West Sussex and the community is trying to stop them. Over 250 people stopped 15 trucks bring on equipment on Day 1 (Thurs). On Day 2 more than 100 police were used to break the blockade and escort trucks onto the fracking site. On Day 3 the community continued to resist attempts to force trucks through the blockade but gave up early afternoon. On Day 4 Cudrilla did not attempt to bring any trucks onto the site. On Day 5 Cuadrilla continued to try to push trucks through the blockade and the community have continued to resist. Camp is still going strong and renewed efforts are being made to defend Balcombe.
This film charts Doreen and John's journey from the shock of the drill rigs arrival to the sickening realisation that their lives and the lives of their family and friends will be profoundly affected. They live in Lancashire within sight of a shale gas well that is scheduled for hydraulic fracturing.
It is already known that pumping large quantities of water underground can induce minor earthquakes near to geothermal power generation and fracking sites. However, the new evidence reveals the potential for much larger earthquakes, of magnitude 4 or 5, related to the weakening of pre-existing undergrounds faults through increased fluid pressure.