Tag Archives: GasLand

Colorado study finds higher occurrence of contaminants near fracking sites

A researcher from the University of Missouri School of Medicine has found evidence of higher occurrence of endocrine disrupting chemicals near fracking sites when compared to presence in control areas. The study was published in the journal Endocrinology.

LATimes report on University of Missouri study finding endocrine disruptors at fracking sites

Based on the information in the abstract, the study collected samples from drilling sites, the Colorado River, and a control site in Missouri. The drilling sites had elevated levels of contaminants, and the Colorado River showed a higher level than that of the control site in Missouri. To be fair, the study does not indicate that these endocrine disrupting chemicals had been released directly into the natural system from fracking sites, but merely points to the evidence as indicating the increase in industrial activity in remote sites present a greater likelihood of contamination. The study certainly verifies the presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the fracking process (something, you may recall, that Josh Fox mentions highlights in Gasland without making a qualitative link).

I want to emphasize here again: wastewater storage, treatment, and disposal are the most critical pieces that must be in place for fracking to be any kind of success.


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Gasland: what the documentary shows us, part 3

The last item that Josh Fox’s documentary reveals that I wish to highlight (there are several more that other outlets have picked up on already) is the one that is not mentioned specifically: the problem of the endocrine disruptor. His interview with Dr. Theo goes into what the effects of endocrine disruptors are, which are primarily neurological. If you have not heard of endocrine disruptors, here’s the description from our favorite source on the web for such unknowns, wikipedia. The subject is addressed by NIEHS as well.


Josh captured reports from individuals experiencing these very symptoms, and tragically filmed animals experiencing these symptoms rather strikingly. The reason I highlight this issue here is because we have no treatment for endocrine disruptors. It seems that people and animals had exposure from endocrine disruptors that traveled by air. Again, the dispersed nature of this kind of gas development poses an extra challenge for protecting environmental health, in the air, soil, and water. Admittedly, endocrine disruptors are not unique to gas exploration at all. I bring it up here as something of a public service announcement.

The one critique I have of Gasland is that he does not talk about the benefits of natural gas, and of the lease holders. I know he mentions the adds run by Chespeake and what not about this being a ‘game changer’ and of course starts the movie by describing the generous offer he received in the mail. The reason it is important to note the incentive is that there are a lot of landowners out there, a lot of farmers whose business is struggling, home owners scraping by, who have a justified reason to exercise their mineral rights: they can plain and simply use the financial boost. Second to that is the fact that our way of life here calls for this steady supply of cheap energy, and this is a resource that we can and will use. Once we acknowledge these facts, I believe we can have a better discussion about how to extract those resources responsibly to provide all stakeholders better economic stability.




GasLand (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)


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Gasland: what the documentary shows us, part 2

The second great insight that Gasland provides on the hazards of hydraulic fracturing is something that he does so effectively in the movie that he doesn’t even mention it specifically: the dispersed nature of the industrialization.The cumulative effect of the dispersed setting is actually identified by the scientist at SMU as a major barrier to regulating the air emissions because each well does not reach the threshold to trigger Clean Air Act reporting. But the cumulative effect of all the wells in a region more than surpass that threshold.

Going back to the problem listed in part 1 of the limitations of regulation, the dispersed setting of industrial sites in the midst of farmland must be a challenge to regulators to review well pad siting and construction, hold pond construction, materials storage. When Josh is first speaking with folks in Dimock, you can see first hand the rural setting, the space between neighbors that dilutes a critical mass of both industrial material and of people.The footage of the well explosion in Wyoming is remarkable, where regulators just could not respond until it had gone, and then simply had to sit back and let the thing run its course. Again, in the extras section of the DVD, Josh interviews a gentleman in Arkansas who shows where a truck of flow back water pulls up to a creek to dump its contents.

There is a reason that cities and counties zone industrial areas: it attracts economic development, yes, but it also defines a specific area that infrastructure can handle heavy industrial practices. Heavy traffic and industrial materials can be handled appropriately. Hydraulic Fracturing brings those heavy industrial practices to the farm in rural areas along country roads, separated by several hundred acres from the next industrial site – the closest fracking well. The lesson here is one of acknowledgement, and preparing for that as best we can in the process of planning and development. For example, permits may be issued in a way to account for road repair, which is actually mentioned in the DENR report. Ironically, those of you know me know that I am fan of dispersed management or decentralized systems, but the dispersed nature of these little industrial sites should be managed in some type of cumulative, central manner.


Gasland cover

Gasland cover (Photo credit: darthpedrius)

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Gasland: what the documentary shows us, part 1

On the morning of the first public comment session for the DENR shale gas study, I want to share three main points highlighted in Josh Fox’s documentary film Gasland. Yes, there are a lot of attention-grabbing images in the film, most notably the faucets being set on fire. And if you hear the critique of Gasland from industry representatives, you hear these cases are not due to gas drilling practices. With this, let me again say that I am not surprised that the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has stated in the draft report that hydraulic fracturing can be done in this state if the proper precautions are in place. Those precautions are not in place at the moment. But let me get back to Gasland…

The first remarkable enlightenment from Gasland is that state agency’s hands are tied to legislation. There is the scene where Josh is in Colorado speaking with people who are each experiencing problems with their water, and the one woman shared the conversation she had with a state regulator who had defended industry: she asked if he was helping industry, who was serving her, the public? His response: I don’t know – hire a lawyer. No wonder public trust in government is precipitously falling.

Then, later, Josh is interviewing the Head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. This conversation was tough because I felt that Josh was a little adversarial, and yet both of them were frustrated by the limitations of their respective positions. The DEP could only respond to the complaints they had received, and responded accordingly – they can’t respond to the perception of the problem, only to the reality. The state of Pennsylvania has touted itself on having the toughest regulations for gas drilling, and they have a long list of fines levied against gas developers that have violated those regulations; but the key question is how can the state regulate gas development in a way to prevent those violations before they occur?

And the interview with Weston Wilson from the EPA exposes these same parameters. He points out that testing on water quality, well construction, etc., came to a halt after the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed, yet here was a situation in which the public have industrial practices in their backyards with unknown contents and consequences. In the extras portion of the DVD, which is a must-see, an extended interview with Wilson mentions one of the biggest challenges with hydraulic fracturing: wells that have gone bad due to poor design or construction are being studied, but there is the problem of good wells that go bad that are not being studied.

So, the lesson here is for North Carolina to have very clear regulations on the technology, and the whole practice (I didn’t even mention the extent of problems caused by lack of treatment of the flow back water and other surface contamination from the drill site), and then for the public to have a thorough understanding of how to work with DENR and the industry to protect public interest.


GasLand (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)

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Water, part one.

When I was first asked to follow the Fracking issue in North Carolina back in the fall, my immediate thought was ‘this is crazy! Poking a hole in aquifers to pull gas through it – what a disaster that would be to ruin our groundwater supply!’ Remember earlier that I mentioned speaking to my old classmate about fracking, but I actually jumped straight to the second part of our conversation. The first part of the conversation went something like this:

‘So, what is ‘fracking’ and how in the world does it not contaminate the aquifer?’

‘Well, it’s done in rocks that are about 5000 feet down, well below the aquifer, so it shouldn’t contaminate the aquifer at all.’

Sure enough, a quick look on the topic on the web, a lot news about folks expressing concern over contamination, but not really proven cases of contamination. Description of fracking wells a mile of more deep made me believe that maybe this co-exist. Hearing the technical description of how the fracking well is constructed with multiple steel casing and cement through the aquifer again reinforced the possibility that maybe fracking does not contaminate groundwater.

I had seen the trailer for “GASLAND” and looked up information on that documentary, and saw all sorts of clips on YouTube and news reports and letters to the editor showing what seem like strong links between water contamination and fracking.

In those numerous YouTube clips are also rebuttals to GasLand, raising the question whether the contamination people have experienced in their water is actually due to other sources of contamination, including naturally-occurring contaminants.

Personally, I am skeptical about water quality assessments done by the industry. Furthermore, what individuals featured in GasLand (and other media pieces, such as those interviewed in Dimock, PA, by 60 minutes) are experiencing is real, and they perceive the problem to be associated with hyraulic fracturing activity. Their water quality is compromised, and that fact will scare neighbors near and far. When America’s Natural Gas Alliance says in their clip that when a problem has occurred, they respond quickly, well that is what regulations require them to do. But the industry must respect that people do not want those problems to occur to begin with because that problem may be a loss of their basic need: safe water.

More to come.


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