State Sen. Greg Ball (R- Patterson) last week became the latest politician to enter the fray on natural gas production when he went on a field trip with well known anti-fracturing crusader Josh Fox. Only to later extol his findings on YNN’s Capitol Tonight. With Fox being the State Senator’s de-facto advisor on natural gas issues we were all but guaranteed Ball’s opinions of natural gas production would have no basis in fact or the latest industry practices. In fact, it appears the Senator would rather have a conversation based on fabrications and speculation rather than science, facts and data. His field hearing this week is essentially a parade of self-proclaimed experts, none of whom have any credibility about the issues they are discussing as part of a so-called “field hearing on hydraulic fracturing”.
Common sense, intelligence and sound judgment are not characteristics often associated with lawmakers in state capitols. It seems Senator Ball is no different in this regard. Of course, we wouldn’t expect good judgment from someone who hosted a political fundraiser with the likes of Michaele Salahy (she caused quite the stir for crashing a White House event) under the guise the event was supporting charity. That wonderful decision is recounted here and was later investigated.
According to numerous reports, like this one, it seems erratic behavior is par for the course for the Senator. But I digress, this post isn’t about dead goats in yards, waitresses being groped or shady fundraising practices. It’s about how natural gas is positively impacting people’s lives, in Pennsylvania and throughout out the country, and providing the truth to counter these baseless accusations. So with that below find a myth v. fact segment on the Senator’s recent comments. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time do the same for the fracas that will be the Senator’s field hearing.
Myth V. Fact
Myth: “I’ve seen families whose wells (water wells) are completely contaminated”
Fact: Regulators in 15 states, and Lisa Jackson the handpicked head of President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, have declared no confirmed cases of contamination. In fact, the assertion that water wells are being contaminated by natural gas production is so overused that Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Michael Krancer recently felt compelled to reiterate this statement. “Yet after a “million experiments across the country, I’ve yet to see a single impact of fracking actually directly communicating with freshwater resources. Again and again and again, I never see a single incidence of fracking causing this direct communication that we keep hearing about” – Scott Perry. Here is a document that contains a number of comments from these regulators with direct, unbiased, experience investigating the thousands of claims brought against industry. Now we’re not saying there aren’t residents in PA claiming that gas drilling impacted their water wells. However, we think it’s best to let unbiased investigators determine the true source of water well impairment, like the Crystal Stroud example. See here at EID-Northeast Marcellus we value facts and trust the collective judgment of impartial regulators better than a state legislator who took a field trip with a well known activist trying to gin up free PR for his latest propaganda filled offering.
Myth: Companies don’t test for chemicals in fracturing fluids or disclose the components of these fluids. Resident’s don’t know what they are and companies claim they were naturally occurring.
Fact: Not too sure of the logic in this one. If you conduct a baseline water test and nothing shows, then it does after gas prodution, that doesn’t exactly provide a loophole to say “it must have been naturally occurring”? But I digress. Most companies in the Marcellus conduct baseline testing at distances that far exceed what is suggested under Pennsylvania law. In fact, some operators are now providing baseline testing as far as 4,000 feet from drilling operations. This is often conducted by independent 3rd party laboratories whose findings are shared with the company and homeowner.
Myth: Companies Don’t Disclose What’s in their Fracturing Fluids
Fact: Actually they do. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania maintains a general list of all additives used in fracturing fluids throughout the Commonwealth. It can be found here and New York’s SEIS requires a full disclosure of additives to be used. But let’s say I am a property owner in Lycoming County located downstream from the Ogontz Fishing Club Unit 14H site and I want to know what specific constituents are being utilized at that site. Certainly I won’t be able to find this information (so say all the anti-development interests). Well to quote the great Lee Corso “Not so fast.” Most major producers are now supplying that information through www.fracfocus.org. In fact, specific constituents used at the Ogontz site can be found here and here. I encourage you to examine this site to determine the mystery ingredients in fracturing fluid by your home. Turns out they aren’t so mysterious.
Myth: landowners sign leases with with no disclaimers and no understanding of what their signing.
Fact: This is another one we hear quite a bit. Perfect from an anti-development perspective in that they hope to conjure up images of helpless citizens surprised by things they didn’t understand and never thought possible as no resources were available to help understand “confusing messages” brought forward from landmen. Nothing could be farther from the truth. First, every landowner signs a lease on their own free will and accord. The landman from the company represents only one source of information. Further, landowners have many informational resources available to them. Websites like gomarcellusshale.com help provide an understanding of the many groups available to assist landowners. The National Association of Royalty Owners- Pennsylvania Chapter also provides resources to current and potential landowners. Finally, in New York the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc. represents 17 counties and 37+ coalitions. Estimated numbers of households in the coalition are currently over 20,000 representing approximately 70,000 people and over 800,000 acres throughout New York’s Southern Tier.
Myth: Hard to Follow the Senator around minute 5:52 where he begins speaking of “fracking pools”, then spills, then landowners signing their “life away” and receiving no money for still birth cattle. Phew. We will try to go in order.
Fact: Fracking Pools. Here we will assume he is talking about pits which can be used to store fresh water or flowback water. For starters, this practice is no longer commonly used in the industry. Also, open pits are specifically outlawed under the regulatory structure proposed in New York’s SGEIS and would not receive approval from DEC. Finally, most operators in Pennsylvania now use closed loop drilling systems. This removes the need for pits and houses waste and materials in sealed containers significantly reducing the potential for environmental impacts. However, if a pit is used in Pennsylvania it has to meet strict requirements including construction standards, mimimum requirements of freeboard (spacing between fluid and top of the pit), and detailed pit lining requirements including a list of approved synthetic liners to name a few.
Fact: Spill avoidance and response. Pennsylvania requires operators to develop “Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency” (or “PPC”) plans for each well site to “identify all the pollution substance and wastes that will be used or generated” during an operation to identify “the methods for control and disposal of those substances or wastes,” and to plan “the actions to be taken to prevent pollution substances from reaching the waters of the Commonwealth” in the event that accidents or unexpected conditions occur. In addition, to ensure a timely response operators are required to have an emergency response team from PA in place to respond to any incident.
Fact: Still Births. The issue of still births is one that is incredibly complex and has been vexing numerous industrialized countries where these instances have been increasing for years. The U.S., Canada and Norway for example all have seen significantly increasing still birth rates over recent decades. In fact, the Holstein stillbirth incidence with first calvings has risen to 12 per cent in Canada. In addition, U.S. research found that stillbirth incidence increased to 13.2 per cent in 1996 from 9.5 per cent in 1985. All of this can be found here. Quickly assuming that still births must be related to natural gas production does not make it so.
Myth: Property Values Depleted by Over 90% to properties affected by Gas Drilling
Fact: In Dimock, PA, one area where the possibility exists that gas drilling may have affected water wells, homeowners were provided settlements worth double their property values. In addition, one home which was included in the consent order, later sold at a value that was very competitive and well above the average price for a home in that area.
Myth: “In Pennsylvania where they are employing a lot of people from Texas and Colorado-not Pennsylvania…”
Fact: Another well-parroted myth from the opposition. They claim jobs are going to folks from Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana. Sometimes they even say that a majority of the jobs are going to illegal immigrants in a way to disparage the economic opportunities provided by natural gas production. Of course, all these claims are propaganda and hyperbole with no facts to support. So let’s clear the air. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor, nearly 48,000 people have been hired in 2011 by industries related to developing the Marcellus Shale, 71 percent of whom are Pennsylvania residents. 9,000 new hires thus far in 2011. What’s more? These jobs provide on average over $60k/year. In case you were wondering, that equals the amount of the average family income in PA according to the U.S. Census.
Myth: Now that the gas industry can run through the state and do what they want they think its in their best interest to not show up [to Sen. Ball’s “hearing”]
Fact: This “hearing” will be anything but including the likes of well known anti-gas advocates including Josh Fox, Craig and Julie Sautner, James Northrup, representatives from Frack Action and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy to name a few. Can’t speak for them but I would imagine “industry” has better things to do than spend time watching this witch hunt that will be filled with lies, mistruths, hyperbole and extortions. In fact, one could argue its a better use of their time to keep providing good paying jobs for hard working Americans rather than to waste time refuting such demagoguery at a hearing designed to burnish the State Senators credentials with his environmentally minded constituents.
All that being said, there is one area where we agree with the Senator. That all members of the NY legislature should go to Pennsylvania and see the benefits that are being realized there. Finally, given the Senator holds a position involving public responsibility and accountability we want to be sure he has all the facts. In that vein, we are including our links to our many efforts debunking the lies propagated by Gasland.