Archive for January, 2012

Cracking the Myths of the Methane Industry: Come out and see “Gasland”

“Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well.” Josh Fox, Film maker of the documentary, Gasland

Hydraulic Fracturing of shale, or ‘fracking’ as it is more often called, is posed to create havoc around the world. The citizenry of Delaware and Pennsylvania are not the only ones that have grave concerns regarding the drilling and retrieval process of methane gas. From Bulgaria to New Brunswick people are horrified to learn that their water, land and atmosphere are under siege. Not only is fracking a new and unconventional technology fraught with many unknowns related to various types of contamination, but the whole package right through to gas distribution poses many dangers to humanity and all species.

The gas industry loves to tell us that fracking has been around for sixty years, but they forget to tell us that different technologies only became integrated in the last 10 years, enabling industry to extract gas thousands of feet below the surface. The ability to turn drills laterally, use of a toxic brew of chemicals and water called slickwater under intense pressure and to refrack the natural joints in shale to open them for methane extraction at the surface, is decade old technology.

The gas companies and university scientists have data that shows how potent the release of methane is for upping the stakes towards catastrophic climate destabilization. Natural gas is mostly methane and until recently scientists thought methane is around 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of creating the greenhouse effect that traps heat in our atmosphere. Recent science from 2009 puts that number much higher; in fact it can be 105 times more potent than C02. Yes, weighing an equivalent energy output for coal, oil and natural gas shows natural gas to produce less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than the other two but that’s where ‘clean’ ends and filthy begins. Once you evaluate all aspects of unconventional gas fracking including production, compressing equipment, storage, habitat loss, transportation, voluntary and involuntary release of methane in production and water usage, world renowned scientists such as Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University now inform us through peer-reviewed studies, that fracking is anything but clean. It is more polluting than oil or coal.

The gas industry wants us to believe that wells are safe, but 5 percent fail immediately and those over thirty years have a fifty percent chance that they will leak. The area called a pad is where the heavy machinery is set up, and gas companies tell us that it won’t take a lot of industrial space but see what has already happened in British Columbia to know that up to sixteen wells can be at one site. Each well uses up to five million gallons of water and a cocktail of chemicals that is only now coming to public scrutiny. These multi-well pads then create a pattern that runs along the joints in the shale. If a company owns the rights to drill, as it does at the Dallas/Forth Worth Airport, the entire airport becomes an industrial zone. That can happen in the most bucolic setting as well.

The methane industry claims to take part of the waste water from fracking sites and filter out the contaminants, but the water filtration plants are not equipped to process many of the chemicals such as volatile organic compounds and heavy metals. As a result, many of these chemicals are released into the river systems. Duke University researchers have found that many water wells for houses show pronounced methane contamination in ground water within one kilometer of a drilling site. The industry shouts out that fluid migration from faulty wells is “rare”, but rare turns out to be at an unacceptable level.

The fixation on extracting every fossil fuel from the Earth only delays the urgent need to move towards renewable energy. If we are to make the transition to renewable energy, keep the high potency GHG methane in the ground.

Come out to “Be the Change Film Series” this January 18th, at the Gayety Theatre at 7:30 PM in Collingwood to see Josh Fox’s “Gasland”. Take a look at to give yourself some background into the controversy.