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Gas, Shale, and ‘Hydrofracking’
A drilling rig used to bore thousands of feet into the earth to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale deep underground is seen on the hill above the pond on John Dunn's farm in Houston, Pa. Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008.

A drilling rig used to bore thousands of feet into the earth to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale deep underground is seen on a farm in Houston, Penn., in October 2008.

It’s not the Copenhagen dream of carbon-free energy.

But its promoters say it could be a far-cleaner-than-coal bridge to that future: a vast ocean of natural gas, deep underground, trapped in shale — in this country.

America could be the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, they say. New technology — hydraulic fracturing — makes it possible, accessible. But it also means shooting a river of chemicals up and down through our water table. The water we drink.

This hour, On Point: American energy, and the rewards and costs of getting at the gas trapped in shale.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Guests:

Joining us from Houston, Texas, is Kenneth Medlock, professor of economics at Rice University and fellow in energy and resource economics at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. Formerly he was consultant at El Paso Energy Corporation, where he was responsible for analysis of North American natural gas, petroleum, and power markets.

From Austin, Texas, we’re joined by Amy Mall, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Land Programs. Lately she’s focused on protecting sensitive western lands from oil and gas operations, and on advancing public policies to require more environmentally friendly oil and gas operations where the industry does drill.

From Youngsville, N.Y., we’re joined by Ramsay Adams, executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper.

And from Hancock, N.Y., we’re joined by Lisa Wujnovich, organic farmer and poet. She’s lived on her farm in Hancock for nearly 25 years. She and her husband will not sell the gas rights to their land, but they’ve watched many in the town of Hancock sign over their rights.  Read one of her poems, “Gas Drilling–It’s Like This” (pdf).

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  • pm

    Destroying clean water to extract gas cannot be tolerated.
    How ‘dirty’ can you get??

  • Michael

    So where there going to talk about the pipe-line going through Southern Afghanistan? to skip russia and iran using the country of Georgia instead and of course Afghanistan .

  • pm

    “Environmental issues aside”??
    We can see where this guy’s priorities are NOT!

  • Christopher S

    Burning natural gas may release less CO2 than burning coal, but it still releases CO2. If we extract all the natural gas that we can, and we burn it, there will be more CO2 in the atmosphere, not less.

  • ned studholme

    The Halliburton Corp invented the cracking process in he 1940′s and Dick Cheney’s energy task force recommended that it be exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2001. The gulf between state and federal environmental impact procedures has kept this dangerous and risky technology from reaching the public notariety it deserves.

    A recent paper on this subject is sent unde separate cover.

  • Andrea DeMayo

    Please remember that the environment is important and must be addresses thoughtfully, but must be balanced with the political and economic costs. Our wars in the middle east add to the cost of our dependence on foreign oil. Fuel independence, even as a “bridge” could be enormous for this country -

  • Larry Masland

    One way to look at costs is the difference between energy input and energy output or the net energy of shale gas extraction. Inasmuch as there are now shale gas production facilities, I wonder whether or not there is any data about the net energy from this process.

  • BILL HARMAN

    Excellent topic, but the word “recover” seems inappropriate. It implies that we formerly had the gas, lost it, and now we want to recover it. I suggest: “extract” or “mine”.

  • pm

    We need federal protection of all the elements: earth, water, fire, air and space. These are the building blocks of life, ecosystems. If we allow endless poisoning of these, that’s it. Ecosystems die, species die, life dies.
    Egos, greed, excessive desire and stubbornness and ignorance must give way to these simple, humble, modest truths if life as we know will continue deep and far into the future.

  • Steve T

    No No NO. leave it alone! The ability to harness water has been over looked. The ocean is the answer and nobody wants to even talk about it. We have the technology. Think Wind turbines under water. Or hydroelectric dual direction turbines. Creates JOBS and energy.

  • yar

    Could you talk about radioactivity associated with gas drilling. These shales often have radioactive elements with them.

  • Rema Loeb

    It is dishonest to consider natural gas a “transition fuel.” Once the well pads and roads are constructed, the feeder pipelines in place, the compressors working, the water ruined (which might not be evident for 30 years or more), the radioactive materials in New York rock released, the huge cumulative effect of fracking having ruined agriculture, tourism, fishing, and our daily lives, we are to believe that these mega businesses will simply walk away and allow suddenly honest politicians to install wind farms, geothermal production, and mass manufacture of solar panels? I doubt it.

  • Julie Chen

    I’m not an energy engineer, but quite simply, think of all the fossil fuel that would be used to access, contain, transport, and process this substance. Common sense, is it worth the risk of polluting our ground water, when the energy acquired might be a wash against the energy used to get it in the first place?

  • Kevin Wilson

    All of these “naturally” occuring resouces and we MUST not use them? These environmental lunatics are some of the most radical and truly uninformed people on the face of our planet. i.e. “Climate Gate” These wells are 5,000 to 8,000 feet below the aquifers, in a 4″ pipe encased in several feet of concrete(limestone)through the aquifer layers(limestone). When the well is depleted the entire vertical length is sealed in concrete(more limestone). I’m all for clean water and air, but please use common sense. For over a hundred years many rural people received their water through shallow water wells in oil and gas country PA, WV, NY, TX, etc. with no contamination. In modern times we use surface water (rivers, lakes) for our water source. It’s called “Natural” gas for a reason.

  • Steve

    I wise society will investigate consequences first, and then take action. In contrast, a doomed society will act first, and learn by direct consequence. Which one of these do we want to be?

  • David White

    One reason we don’t trust the mining and drilling industries is because they behave badly in other places. Mountaintop removal and the deep injection of waste water have done a lot of environmental damage and they ignore the effects on the communities and wells and health.

  • Kevin Cooke

    All of the chemicals used in the hydrofracking process are included in the draft Environmental Impact Statement filed with the state of Neew York. They are also available online. No one is trying to hide this info.

  • http://www.un-naturalgas.org Laurie

    The consequences of exploiting shale gas extend far beyond water contamination to severe air pollution, industrialization of rural areas, use of eminent domain for pipelines, dangers of pipelines, air pollution and noise (including risk of VAD – vibroacoustic disease) from compressor stations, destroyed property values along with increased property taxes to cover extensive road damage, severe effects on agriculture, including on livestock and wildlife health, and health effects on people living nearby – people who can no longer sell their homes and are prisoners of the gas extraction industry. There are huge issues with what to do with the brine and returned frack fluids that come back up from a well going into production – there are no satisfactory ways to deal with these harmful fluids. (Start by googling “monongahela” + TDS.)

    The greenhouse gas effects of gas extraction and transmission may be worse than coal:
    http://un-naturalgas.org/weblog/2009/03/if-2-leaks-the-co2-impact-of-natural-gas-is-the-same-as-burning-coal/

    The record is clear: The natural gas extraction is destroying lives everywhere it is at work.

    We do not want this industry here in New York State or anywhere. NRDC doesn’t go nearly far enough: the gas industry’s track record with shale gas extraction shows that right now, we need to leave that gas in the ground, and move directly into truly clean energy and a massive conservation initiative.

  • Jamey

    The thought of living in an energy independent nation is incredibly attractive to me; it is painful for me to watch our nation’s children placed in harm’s way to secure these resources. With my relatively limited knowledge of the geology and stratigraphy of these deposits, I cannot help but think of the devastation inflicted on the environment by turn of the centure hydro mining for gold that can still be seen on creekbeds across the American west, and I wonder if that’s what might happen here. The dream of getting free of conflict oil is powerful, however.

  • http://www.un-naturalgas.org Laurie

    The consequences of exploiting shale gas extend far beyond water contamination to severe air pollution, industrialization of rural areas, use of eminent domain for pipelines, dangers of pipelines, air pollution and noise (including risk of VAD – vibroacoustic disease) from compressor stations, destroyed property values along with increased property taxes to cover extensive road damage, severe effects on agriculture, including on livestock and wildlife health, and health effects on people living nearby – people who can no longer sell their homes and are prisoners of the gas extraction industry. There are huge issues with what to do with the brine and returned frack fluids that come back up from a well going into production – there are no satisfactory ways to deal with these harmful fluids. (Start by googling “monongahela” + TDS.)

    The greenhouse gas effects of gas extraction and transmission may be worse than coal:
    http://un-naturalgas.org/weblog/2009/03/if-2-leaks-the-co2-impact-of-natural-gas-is-the-same-as-burning-coal/

    The record is clear: The natural gas extraction is destroying lives everywhere it is at work.

    We do not want this industry here in New York State or anywhere. NRDC doesn’t go nearly far enough: the gas industry’s track record with shale gas extraction shows that right now, we need to leave that gas in the ground, and move directly into truly clean energy and a massive conservation initiative. NO, there’s NO place that it should happen – everywhere is SOMEONE’S home, everywhere is a watershed.

    Sorry if this is a re-submit – I overlooked allow your site scripts on my first try.

  • Margaret McCasland

    As a climate change educator (and presenter for Al Gore’s Climate Project) who recognizes the need for “bridge” sources of energy, I used to support natural gas, especially as preferable to coal. In learning about this new form of drilling, I have become much more concerned how conventional natural gas is handled, “cradle to combustion.” While not nearly as bad as mountaintop removal coal mining, the surface damage (including deforestation) for drilling pads, roads, pipelines are substantial. Some forms of energy extraction shouldn’t happen in anybody’s backyards.

    The life cycle analysis of gas drilling needs to be done and in two parts: extraction and transmission of gas. Once released into the atmosphere, natural gas (AKA methane) traps over 20 times as much heat as CO2. And it gets released at many stages: exploration using seismic trucks and drilling of test holes can release methane from surface formations; improperly cased wells have caused methane migration, again in higher formations. Once gas starts flowing, it leaks, then, once capped, is flared. Methane leaks have been detected with infrared cameras in storage tanks on site, during cleaning and drying stages, when compressed for transmission, and then during transmission. Our pipeline infrastructure is not what it should be.

    The “new” technology is a tweaking of existing drilling techniques. The Energy Act of 2005 exemptions are the real reason this is being used now. Current drilling is largely “exploratory” as the previous technology is tweaked for maximum recovery. If these exemptions remain in place, once the price of gas rises, there will be much more widespread drilling–and massive industrialization of urban areas (already happening in Fort Worth), suburbs (already happening in Ohio) and fields and forests (already happening in Pennsylvania).

    All for two years worth of gas (total US consumption). We can save that much gas with conservation and efficiency, while saving our homes and ecosystems.

  • yar

    Old abandon wells may be a conduit for frac materials to get into groundwater. These old wells may not show up on any maps.

  • Andrew Magee

    Tom
    Ask them the following question…
    How many billions of dollars is this going to cost? Why not spend that money drilling wells adjacent to houses to produce clean geothrmal wells. Or subsidizing solar panels to charge electric cars, or to build wind turbines. These are simple alternatives and non polluting!

  • John Callahan

    This topic has an interestingly familiar ring to it. Thirty years ago the North slope of Alaska was going to solve all our energy problems. Of course it never happened, only the oil companies got rich from a resouce that belonged to the people.

  • pm

    No one is talking about education.
    When individuals see what the consequences are of their choices and actions (all of which effect global and local ecology) then the life supporting changes will be easy to make. The resistance comes from fear of loss, lack of awareness and ignorance.

  • Mary Anne Grady Flores

    Ithaca Journal headlines “Marcellus tests high for radioactivity, DEC will need to closely monitor hot drilling water”. How can they with only 17 staff members for the state of NY? 271 REPORTED gas and oil spills to DEC, many left unresolved.
    -How will they cover our Fingerlakes renowned tourist area, with a landscape littered with gas drilling rigs every 1,000 ft, with noise like a jet passing and lights 24 hrs a day.
    -Call Gov. Paterson 1518-474-8390. to withdraw the draft Supplimental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, by Dec. 31st!!!
    -http://www.state.ny.us/govenor/contact/index.html No Fraking in the Fingerlakes!!!!
    Toxicstargeting.com – sign the petition! watch the videos!

  • Sarah

    I grew up 5 miles from Dimock, PA in Susquehanna County, PA, the mecca for Marcellus Shale deposit. This land is some of the most beautiful, fertile land in the country, but the drilling WILL ruin the groundwater. It’s already happened to the families in Dimock where chemicals have caused at least one well to explode. New York is environmentally regulated…Pennsylvania is not. While I agree that the greater good is to extract the gas for our nation’s use, there needs to be stricter regulation in Pennyslvania on these companies who have already proven a lack of ethics in their lease-signing practices.

  • Joe
  • Renata E. Sack

    Please read about the Rocky Mountain Institute’s latest initiative:”Reinventing Fire”. It should make it clear that we MUST look for our energy to RENEWABLE sources. The sun can provide enough energy to power the world. We MUST put resources and attention into developing the needed technology to assure distributed energy through renewable resources. By the time all this money has been spent to research gas recovery, etc. leading only to more toxic problems, we can reach RENEWABLE energy goals. – Invite Amory Lovins to speak on your show.

  • steve

    I would love to understand the implication of “clean” fossil fuels. I understand that “clean coal” has scrubbers to remove particulates, but it is the CO2 and H20 that are the green house gases of interest, and the scrubbers don’t do anything about them. Gas may seem cleaner (no particulates) but there is still the CO2 and H2O to deal with, so is it really any “cleaner”in the end?

    Fossil fuels ARE carbon sinks, and it took the world millions of years to sequester all that carbon into them. I am not certain we have a usable sink (technology nor place) for what we have already burned, let alone what we can get out of shale, coal, or anything else.

  • Jay Bellanca

    We have 140 acres in North Central PA. Lycoming Co. We have been approached by many gas companies. We have attempted to lease the land but have not have had a “acceptable lease” Some of the offers have been for $2000+per acre but some higher. We have an offer on the table for $250,000 for the mineral rights, which we have turned down. I have no difficulties leaseing the land with a royalty agreement and allowing gas extraction. Natural gas is the cleanest bridge to energy independence.

  • pm

    Somehow giving something up (our excesses) isn’t discussed.
    Being energy generous has been squashed by those who make massive money by dirty energy.
    America has become a bloated, spoiled rotten place…..gorging on energy.
    Our country needs a serious energy diet.
    Let’s look in the mirror and tell the truth.

  • http://shaleshock.org emilyvotruba

    Thanks for this program. This is a very fearful issue for many people in the Finger Lakes Region. Hydrofrack drilling, even if the wastewater that comes out of the ground was not toxic and radioactive, would be a serious detriment to this area. The diversion of millions of gallons of water, the destruction of the landscape, the damage to roads, the noise, air, and light pollution–all are prohibitive. I’m a member of an organization called Shaleshock. Not all of us are totally against this sort of drilling occurring at all (though I personally am), but we are pushing right now for the withdrawal of the dSGEIS now before Governor Paterson. This document does not go anywhere near far enough in addressing issues such as wastewater disposal and legal recourse for people whose wells become polluted by this process. Please sign the Coalition letter at toxicstargeting.com to ask the Governor to throw out this dangerously inadequate document and start over. This should at least buy us a little precious time with our beautiful land and precious water.
    http://www.toxicstargeting.com/MarcellusShale/coalition_letter

  • Lisa Wright

    A question to ponder:

    How is it that Fort Worth goes hog wild over drilling, allows drilling within city limits– and yet this irresponsible city cannot take care of its homeless children?

    And now there’s benzene in the air and now after lining his pockets the Mayor is SHOCKED,SHOCKED! Boom and bust economies run in the face of smart, sustainable ones. Unconventional gas drilling is the most Neanderthal thing I can think of next to blowing tops off mountains. Turn off your lights, turn down the thermastat, drive less, and elect smart folks who like clean air and water and who can think outside the dead-end fossil fuel box.

  • Ralph – in Michigan

    People that control how industry works to provide what we want to pay for, and that have political influence and even control of the writing of government regulations, have a long history of completely running over the interests (what is needed for a decent life) of poor Americans, Native Americans, and others. Perhaps increasingly, the larger body of Americans are finding themselves in the same position. Politicians and others in the last thirty years have increasingly followed a policy of global fundamentalist capitalism, where profit is the bottom line. It might take quite an astounding degree of political unity and concern to affect a change that will address the long term needs of the disempowered. In a society that gives wealthy corporate interests the right to own and control the majority of the media that teach so many of us what to think, it will be quite an uphill struggle.

  • Steve Sierigk

    Communities that have had hydrofracking with the brew of toxic chemicals injected into groundwater have been damaged in many ways; contamination of waterways and wells and toxic laden holding ponds are an insane legacy to leave our children…not to mention many other devastations to communities infrastructure. Even if this energy potential is there we should not rush into these extraction methods if it causes such permanent harm. Proposed regulations offer inadequate protection and regulatory agencies are not well equipped to deal with oversight and enforcement.

    We can put our collective minds to much better ways to produce energy than hydrofracking offers. There will come a time soon when clean fresh water will far outway the worth of this extracted natural gas.

  • David Nicholas

    I just listened to On-Point.

    I believe there was a key financial issue that was missed. In a lease the “bonus” which is what was referred to disparigingly as $25 per acre is not as important as the royality. The state of Texas demands a 25 percent royality for its own land. Others would do well to demand the same. The royality is the owner’s share of production “off-the-top” with no cost to the owner.

    Having said that, I was involved in a shale “play” in West Texas in which the prevailing royality was $25, and they offered us $35, and then I checked with two other companies and got offers of $75 and $125 bonus for a 5 year lease. (That is $125 for the 5 years, which would be $25 per year)

    Often they will ask for a 3 year lease, with a 2 year “kicker,” which is an option to lease for two more years. Accepting this is a concession by the owner. Teh owner could counter with a a straight 3 year lease. If at the end of 3 year lease, the leasee would have wanted to exercise the kicker, its likly someone else would give a straight lease.

    Also, when approached by a “land man,” (and I have run into at least 2 land women), I believe one should always call the county recorder or clerk, whoever records deeds, and find out who else is leasing in the area. (The ckerk’s office will be full of land-men doing research.) Call other land-men and see if you can get a better offer.

    The impression on the program was that they sold their minerals, not leased, for $25 per acre. If so, of course that’s bad. But, the number referred to, is almost certainly the lease bonus.

  • Rob Macgregor

    It’s ironic to hear people contrasting the impacts of natural gas extraction to the impacts of development of renewables, assuming one is inherently bad and the other good. It’s not so simple, unfortunately.

    Natural gas- fired generation is often invoked as a good compliment to and for the intermittency of wind generation for instance, and it’s better than coal or oil fired in carbon emissions. So do we pursue it despite its impacts, because it enables the further development of renewables?

    Nat. gas critics point to unacceptable impacts such as ground water/ chemical contamination, and then sketchy corporate lease practices.

    Vaguely similar charges are regularly leveled at the wind industry – when blasting is required in bedrock structures for turbine bases and over surface stormwater run-off impacts for instance.

    The same sketchy corporate practice charges are leveled at wind developers – lack of transparency about potential impacts, corporate profiteering at the expense of people close to the projects, yada, yada, yada.

    Topping it off, we have opponents of wind development saying we don’t need wind power when we have cheap natural gas as baseload.

    So, it seems that all forms of generation have their impacts, and it becomes a matter of “picking your poison”.

    I often am tempted to call for a meeting between opponents of various forms of energy generation. Anti-nuke, anti-coal, anti-gas, anti-oil, anti-wind.
    When they’re all in the same room together, I’d lock the doors. What do you suppose would happen?

    Personally I favor the renewables, and conservation / efficiency efforts. But it isn’t always an easy or obvious choice, and regardless it probably won’t be cheap. But I don’t hear anyone seriously proposing that we simply do without the power…..

  • Tony

    How can you expect to get logical energy policies from an administration that just awarded a contract worth nearly $6 million (using stimulus funds) to two firms run by Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s pollster in 2008.

  • mike bernhard

    It’s clever for Mr Medlock to talk about the need for transparency as if the industry wishes everything had been more transparent from the start and “saved it this unnecessary fight.” In fact, the industry has been anything but transparent; it lobbies at every level of government; it has run roughshod over landscapes, individuals, neighborhoods & communities, and particularly exploited the desperate and the uninformed – and in the process created yet more desperation.

    The O&G industry can afford not just lobbyists to influence government but the best PR people to influence public opinion by pretending to such bogus positions as “we think we need to be more transparent.” What the O&G industry could never afford is to be truly transparent – they have far too much they need to keep under wraps, and for every minute PR people make public statements about increasing transparency, the industry spends hours obfuscating and silencing. Why is Elizabeth Burns in Texas (see http://rancholoslosmalulos.blogspot.com/)under a gag order? Why can’t Laura Amos do an interview?

    He’s also being dishonest when he talks about drilling happening in neighborhoods with no effect. Ask the folks at NEOGAP, in Ohio, if suburban extraction is happening to them with no or even minimal effects.

    To address another point, no “green” fracking formula or proppant (where does proppant come from? see http://un-naturalgas.org/weblog/2009/09/water-sand-or-not-a-day-at-the-beach-part-2/) can change the fact that the process of extracting shale gas is fundamentally and unavoidably, exceptionally and unacceptably intensive, invasive and industrializing of the areas it exploits.

    Learn the truth about the natural gas industry at http://un-naturalgas.org

    And thank you, WBUR, for addressing this topic.

  • http://onanov.com Donald Baxter

    The caller who referred to the guests on the shows as “sophists” is illustrative of the attitude of so-called credentialed experts who have helped us destroy the environment world-wide for the purpose of extracting a finite resource. In fact, it’s largely been non-experts who have exposed the real dangers of those well meaning geologists/energy explorers.

  • John Healey

    STOP!!THIS HAS ALREADY HAPPENED IN CO.MAYO,IRELAND!!Please study this tragedy first before any conclusions are made.The process is different,it is cold venting refining of ocean gas reserves,but the effect on a community is still devastating.The Irish govt. made a sweetheart deal with Shell Oil many years ago to build a land gas refinery(instead of offshore)at the Corrib Gas Project in Ballinaboy,Co.Mayo.They paid off struggling rural farmers also so they could run a pipeline through their property.Shell hired massive amounts of security forces,including local police(driving a wedge in a tightknit community)to protect their progress.People whose land has been in their family for generations where assaulted and arrested!!To see footage of this absurdity,go to “shelltosea” or “indymedia” websites,most local and national media outlets have failed to accurately report these actions,and a local judge is on a mission to help Shell in their efforts.Good luck to your community.

  • Edward Goldstein

    It was a good topic. But the show would have been more informative if it had started with a concise explanation of the process for extracting the natural gas from the shale instead of diving directly into the public relations and political aspects.

    It was half way through the show before the process was actually described (by the rather arrogant caller who referred to the guest as “sophists.”) I have no idea whether that was an accurate description and you did not really follow up on it. (Kenneth Medlock did not seem to have any in-depth knowledge of the technology throughout the program.)

  • http://www.weos.org Aaron Read

    Personally, my greatest concern about hydrofracking in the Finger Lakes of New York (which are at the northern end of the Marcellus Shale) is that the Finger Lakes possess the single greatest natural resource the United States has: clean, fresh, potable WATER.

    As has been demonstrated a lot recently in the southwest…clean, fresh water is not something this country can take for granted anymore. Most of the public isn’t really aware of that yet, but a lot of smart businesspeople are. Several chambers of commerce around the Finger Lakes are already successfully convincing businesses to move to the Finger Lakes region precisely because of the abundant water resources here.

    Given the evidence that’s out there already of massive groundwater contamination from the existing drilling and hydrofracking of the Marcellus Shale, I don’t see how any further work WON’T destroy the water resources here.

  • Peter van der Linde

    Excellent program. Emotions on this topic are obviously running very high. It would be helpful to see more discussion on this topic in the context of a comprehensive energy policy both near term and long term. The question of the development of domestic natural gas should be considered in this broader context. For example what role can clean energy be realistically expected to play in the near term? What are the environmental costs of natural gas production as compared with coal production? To what extent can these costs be mitigated and at what price? What are the economic, military and political costs of the importation of oil from the Middle East? What choices do we have?

  • Peter van der Linde

    Excellent program. Emotions on this topic are obviously running very high. It would be helpful to see more discussion on this topic in the context of a comprehensive energy policy both near term and long term. The question of the development of domestic natural gas should be considered in this broader context. For example what role can clean energy be realistically expected to play in the near term? What are the environmental costs of natural gas production as compared with coal production? To what extent can these costs be mitigated and at what price? What are the economic, military and political costs of the importation of oil from the Middle East? What choices do we have?

  • Judith Auerbach

    Despite the sneering comment by the geologist who called in stating that the microfracturing caused mini quakes that no one could feel, in fact Basel did experience serious quakes which did frighten the populace and caused the process to be shut down.

    “Geothermal Power Plant Triggers Earthquake in Switzerland by Christine Lepisto, Berlin on 01.21.07 Business & Politics (news)

    Even environmentally friendly alternative technologies can have negative impacts which are difficult to predict. The citizens of Basel learned this first-hand as they were shaken by an earthquake of magnitude 3.4 on the Richter scale, followed by 60 lesser aftershocks, including a quake of magnitude 2.5 a week after the initial quake, and another tremor of 3.1 as recently as 6 January, attributed to changes as underground pressures at the now discontinued project site return to normal. The engineers and officials of Geopower did inform the authorities and the public that the proposed Deep Heat Mining project posed a risk of triggering small tremors.”

  • AJ Averett

    We are already facing a potable water crisis in many regions of this country. Indeed, the water wars of the past will pale by comparison to what we will face in the not-too-distant future; the beginning can already be seen in many areas.

    The observation made during the program that this is all about MONEY hits the nail squarely on its head; as has been noted here, these are trifling amounts – particularly when the enormous risks and catastrophic long-term consequences of these actions are factored in, something that is anathema to us Americans as a whole. One must be absolutely aware of an incontrovertible fact, to wit, that when ground water in general, and an aquifer in particular, is contaminated, it will be widespread, most likely increasing for some time and lasting for untold generations – in practical terms, essentially forever. There are already many examples in several regions of the nation. The fluids used in the ‘hydrofracking’ process are proprietary. This is not to protect the commercial advantages of the companies that developed them, but rather to keep the public from knowing what they are injecting into the ground in huge volumes under high pressure.

    Mr. Ashbrook’s remark that our need for energy comes down to a choice of sources essentially between natural gas and coal because renewables are not a present-time option is as absurd as it is just plain wrong. Off-the-shelf technology can begin to supply enormous amounts of energy right now – energy which has a source-cost of zero, is inexhaustible and availalbe in amounts greater than all humanity can ever consume. Those are the facts, and they cannot be disputed.

    Whatever the costs of converting our energy infrastructure – and those of the developed world – from carbon-based sources to renewable and ‘green’ ones such as solar, wind and geothermal (to name merely the ‘Big Three’) will prove to be one of humanity’s greatest bargains. We cannot – and must not – allow ourselves to become like Coleridge’s Ancient Marriner, with “Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.”

  • G. Kielan

    Like most other things in lifes choices we will get the environment we deserve

  • Mariposa

    A choice between “energy” and water is a choice between excess consumption and survival. Which is more important, when will we decide to survive?

    Water, dirt, and sunshine equals food.

    Excess burning of fossil fuels equals disaster.

  • Twitter this

    I seriously doubt that anyone hearing this broadcast will know any other than a carbon-based economy in his or her lifetime. I fully expected the alarmist comments so typical of NPR listeners. Folks, get used to it; we have no choice. As many of you have repeated, we’re broke. We need to make use of any and all resources we have to restore our economy to health for the foreseeable future.

  • pm

    Twitter, yeah with an attitude like that….nothing will get done.
    Tweet that!

  • Paige

    A large issue is also the extensive damage to land transporting the resource in and out. Is the damage comparable to logging? How many fracture points (I don’t know the term) are required to pull the resource out of say, 100 acres of shale?

  • Twitter this

    pm…don’t you mean nothing YOU PREFER will get done…get out of the way or history will use you for pavement.

  • Paige

    How many gallons of chemical are required, and aren’t spills… which will contaminate ground water, a big concern??

  • roger

    just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.

    thin the herd, reduce population to a level the planet can sustain and such extravagances won’t be necessary.

  • pm

    Get out of the way? Is that a threat?

  • pm

    I guess most of the 6 billion who agree will have to get out of the way too…

  • tomfromharlem

    Listen careful to the people ‘FOR’ gas fracking — they all sound contemptuous of people who “don’t understand.” That tells me something right there. This is ALL abut money and only money. Not “good” energy for America. Just Money for the big ME.

  • Stan Scobie

    What is astonishing to me is the lengths to which members of the natural gas industry will go to spread misinformation and half truths under the guise of “now let me tell you the truth.”
    I recently met with a group of citizens concerned about poorly controlled and poorly regulated large scale hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling to extract natural gas from deep shale in NY.
    Partway into the meeting the person, representing himself as a local “water well” driller began to “point out” the “real truths” He started by saying that there would be no drilling in the county for Marcellus shale, because the shale was too close to the surface. When people raised the issue of then why did the O&G Co’s want to lease so much land(about 30-50%) for drilling, he had no answer. When I pointed out that there were other productive shale layers were there and low enough to work well he had no answer.
    Later on he stated that the concerns expressed in the Video/Movie “Split-Estate” had nothing to do with NY because the split, refering to people not owning their mineral rights, didnt exist in NY – the issue only applied to western states. I the pointed out that lots of people in western NY didnt own their mineral rights – hadn’t for a long time, he again had nothing to say.

    I have run into this sort of rather sophisticated “disinformation” campaigning a lot – most remarkably at a NY State Senate roundtable, where industry officials and their hired consultants tried to say things such as that drilling was pretty short with only one well per 640 acres that would take 30-45 days to drill – admittedly a noisy, smelly messy process – but then all was nicely restored and tidy. When I pointed out that NY law allowed at least 16 wells per 640 acres, drilled over 1,800 days – neither short or sweet, and certainly NOT short-term messy, they quietly shut up. I was glad that this encounter was witnessed by sophisticated members of the NY Senate.

    I hear similar “disinformation” being presented by some of the callers to this show. For a good look at the industry in action during the November NY Senate Roundtable, you can look at the two-hour session here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIXZj5BJuGU&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHueUOQj-8E&feature=channel
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA3A8LghfDc&feature=channel

    Stan Scobie, Binghamton, NY

  • Pitou

    Amy Mall has an impossible up-talking, quacking and squealling voice that is insufferable.

  • Seth Mead

    Thank you Tom. This is clearly a difficult issue when questions that do not have absolutely clear answers. I am grateful for the treatment that your show has given this complex issue. I am personally resigned to the fact that the gas companies will likely extract the gas eventually but I take issue with the lack of safeguards in place. There is too much at stake to feel comfortable moving forward without all the information and all the appropriate safeguards in place and enforced.

  • Joe

    Your speaker (I’m not sure if it was Kenneth Medlock or a caller) who indicated that the safety of drilling will vary by the geology of a region makes a critical point. It appears that hydrofracking MAY be safely used under some conditions, in some regions of the country, and not under other conditions in other regions. If those wishing to drill for natural gas were legally liable for ALL the potential costs of contamination that the process might generate, and were required to purchase insurance against such liability, as we require physicians to do, we might allow a genuinely free market to regulate the practice. (The alternative of “closely regulating” the process is dangerous, since corporations that secure permission from regulators are typically absolved of further legal liability, so long as they have met any conditions that regulators may have set. In the Northeast, with New York and Pennsylvania governments nearly bankrupt, I don’t trust them to employ enough monitors to enforce even the strictest paper standards.) So long as corporations can claim the benefits from drilling and escape responsibility for its potential social and environmental costs, drilling should be prohibited altogether. “Surely” those who confidently assure us that the dangers of drilling are minimal or non-existent would endorse such a free market resolution.

  • Rory Holscher

    The part of the show I was able to catch focused well on the known and potential downside of nat gas extraction thru thru deep injection of water and chemicals. What was missing (in the minutes I listened to) was a full acknowledgment of how much less CO2 is emitted per BTU of nat gas energy than per BTU of petroleum (30+ % less) and coal (50% less). This isn’t to say fears about fracting in NYC watershed are baseless. It is only to say that we won’t have a full, reasonable discussion until the downsides of the alternatives to nat gas are laid out on the table. Coal has seldom been kind.

  • Concerned Chippewa Citizen

    Our County is going through the pains of attempting to stop mining for the silica to be used in the frac mining industry. Several mines in the rural areas of the county will be quarried out over time to feed a processing plant in the city limits of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin where the silica will be washed using vast quantities of water after crushing of sandstone. The environmental factors associated with this process are immense including the transporting of the material in and out of the city. If one believes there is an environmental hazard associated with frac mining, one should also look at the hazards associated with obtaining the silica used in the process. It is enormous, requires large amounts of fuel and water to process, and also produces dangerous impacts on people living nearby in the city as well as along the roadways used to transport the quarry into the city. The processing plant can process 2.65 million tons of dry sand per year; it is a 24/7 operation and near schools, hospitals, day cares as well as nursing homes. Safe? hazardous to our drinking water? diesel fuel and natural gas usage? Not all the questions have been answered, but the mining company—Canadian Sand and Proppants will have 60% of this stuff (probably coated with silica) shipped to Canada for resale. Other amounts will be shipped within the USA. Will our people be the benefactors? I doubt it,but certainly the mining company will fill its pockets with “green”.

  • NE PA Land Owner

    This was the most informative news segment I’ve heard on this subject. I hope the reporters propublica.org listen in.

    As a land owner in NE PA, it was a pleasure to listen to valid questions being raised, with water at the center of them, as opposed to the usual bellowing of provocateur know-it-alls, most often so-called geologists who are positioned to get rich — if drilling commences.

    The only other items that come to my mind that were not discussed were:
    1. What is the best deal one can make with the gas men?

    In our case, a group of landowners came together and obtained thousands of dollars per acre, with little or no drilling even taking place on the property, and no water being used or stored there either. Many thousands/millions if gas is tapped (percentage). This via an attorney.

    2. How common is it for the land men, agents for the gas co.s, to pit neighbor against neighbor in order to pressure those on the fence to sign? (Gas companies and their agents need to sign entire blocks of land, no hold-outs.) This happened in our case, due to our concern about the water and our role as land owners to protect this property. Another untold story.

    I appreciated the respectful and intelligent nature of this conversation, and admired the planning and luck that went into telling this story and articulating the issues so flawlessly. I look forward to the next segment on this subject and will certainly follow the work of your guests from now on as well.

  • NE PA Land Owner

    I’d also like to thank the other posters on this web page for adding a massive and fascinating number of crucial points and questions.

  • Ed Jordan

    I’m just so distrustful of the energy industry as a whole when it comes to the effects of their actions on our environment. There have been so many disastrous consequences of their work over the years.

  • Jerry Weber

    It is obvious from documented cases of people who’ve had gas wells drilled on their property or live close to wells and the wastewater sedimentation ponds, that private water wells have been contaminated, people have gotten and are continuing to get sick, property values have declined and serious additional risks to our air, waterways, groundwater and aquifers exist. And yet, the oil and gas industry continues to deny any responsibility for what has or can happen. Apparently in a few cases they’ve made settlements with private individuals, but as part of the settlement, the injured must agree to not talk about the settlement or what happened to them anymore. This is what is called “hush money”.

    So, who do you trust to be telling the truth about the risks associated with this mining? If you still believe the oil and gas industry, those folks who are reaping the profits, are essentially exempt from regulation and refuse to take any responsibility for the obvious damages which have resulted from their operations, you’re quite a fool. I suggest you start drinking and bathing in this wastewater, should move to Rifle, CO and take advantage of those rock bottom real estate prices, open a bottled water production plant, settle back and enjoy a high quality life in that pristine environment.

    The reason this industry will not engage in an intense discussion of the risks associated with this mining nor take responsibility for the damages it has done is that it doesn’t give a damn about the health of Americans, nor does it care what the long term effects to the environment will be. The name of the game for this industry is profits and only profits. Under the guise of helping us escape from the grasp of foreign energy producers, it will continue to ignore its responsibilities as an industry to protect the land and its citizens until such time as it is forced to and, there is little chance of that happening in the near future.

    We as a Nation have become blind to what is going on around us as long as it doesn’t affect us individually. We and our government representatives have become slaves to the industry. They get exemptions from the same environmental protection laws the rest of the Nation must abide by. We lease them public held land to drill on, they can come onto our land because of archaic laws which give someone else the right to the minerals beneath the surface of our property even though we’re the ones paying the taxes on that land. And who are those energy folks, why they are the Exxons, Conoco-Phillips, the Shell’s, etc., global companies! They are the ones who make those tremendous profits no matter what the current price is and through advertising apparently have convinces us that we need to explore for ever more gas and oil rather than pursuing alternative energy sources. As long as they explore, pump, transport, distribute and sell the gas and oil, they are essentially the big game in town. Al other energy players are in the minor league. These are the same companies which deny climate warming, continue to spill oil into our oceans, and are now contaminating our land and waters all while trying to paint a picture of themselves as Saviors of the world. So, until the public bands together and forces its government to regulate this industry by first requiring that at a minimum they must follow the rules and regulations everyone else has to follow, they will continue to desecrate our lands and waters.

    What will be the long term cleanup costs to rid our air of the ever increasing amounts of pollutants from this industry and to clean the water it will contaminate for human consumption? Who will pay for the cleanup of our lands (the industry is excluded from the cleanup fund requirements). What will be the collective effect on our wildlife and aquatic life and their habitats? Guess who will again be stuck with the bill and who will suffer the long term consequences of these irresponsibilities? The PUBLIC of course! The oil and gas industry will escape again just like it did with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. If something isn’t done and soon, this will turn into yet another bailout for an industry which is too big to fail and/or perhaps another gross failure by our judicial system to award the litigants financially for the totality of the damage they caused to the environment and the individuals they’ve wronged. How many times will the taxpayer have to bear the burdens of irresponsibility of these large corporations?

    Severe and in some cases irreversible damage has already been inflicted on some of our citizens and hundreds of thousands of acres of land. It is time for citizens to rise up, form action committees, write their congressmen, enact local ordinances through local and state governments. If we don’t act collectively and now, it will be too late – perhaps it already is!

  • Jerry Lausted

    The “land Men” are working to develop 15 mines in Dunn county, 17 mines in Chippewa county and 22 mines in Barron county in northwestern Wisconsin. Each of these are strip mines that can remove hundreds of acres of our tallest hills down to withing five feet of ground water. Our 500,000 year old sandstone is fractured to sort out the large round hard grains of silica that is called frac sand. Our air, water and economy will be damaged as this industry grows. I question, what is the net energy gain by the time the frac is used to remove the gas which is then used to process the tar sands into gasoline for someones SUV.

  • http://www.emergercounsel.com Chris Kule

    This area suffered two centuries ago from having all the forests cut down. It suffered in the last century from deep coal mining, intense industrialization, strip mining, and surface storage of the waste products. But these activities also built the cities of the Northeast, heated them, and sustained the “Arsenal of Democracy”, when called upon.
    So what else is new? We should be able to apply past lessons learned and turn this latest development to our advantage without destroying the future. The supposed threat to the New York watershed is, in a word, unimaginable. CAK (Tunkhannock, PA)

  • http://www.onpointradio.org Julie Wiklund

    I feel that there needs to be some controls on a national level to ensure that the water and air stays safe. Although we may not like the fact that they are destroying mountains that can never be replaced, if they have purchased the land that it hard to fight. But, the problem comes in where they are destroying my water, fishing, air quality, and using my tax dollars to drill wells and repair roads.

  • Sierra Flanigan

    Frack is whack!

  • Sandrablondon

    All Penns Woods haven’t been cut down

  • KellBell08

    I feel like all we are doing is taking things out of the earth that shouldnt be taking out yet and one day we are going to need it there and we are not going to have it there because so many people think they are helping out by taking it out of the earth now… well hey thanks a lot when we all die some day because you guys thought you were helping remember i said thanks because you know i so wanna die 

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