This is the fifth part of a series [ links below], discussing how the same “skate past the facts and hope no one notices” strategy typically employed by most Peak Oil deniers is not-so-surprisingly used by those cheerleading for shale gas development. What triggered this is a March 2012 article written by a Chevron Corporation executive, entitled “The Truth About Natural Gas From Shale.” [Quotes are from that piece unless noted otherwise.]
His stated purpose was quite clear:
Understandably, this natural gas boom has raised some questions and concerns about how this resource is developed, including questions about the process of hydraulic fracturing and the affects, if any, on the water table. While there is much debate and rhetoric surrounding this resource, often times a simple explanation of the process is left out of the discussion. In an effort to help raise awareness of how natural gas from shale is extracted, here is a brief explanation.
Those of us concerned about our energy future believe it’s vital to provide the public with information. It’s not enough to offer vapid assurances that all is well with energy supply and production. Yes, there’s certainly been some good news in the last year or so, and we readily acknowledge that. But that’s only one part of the story. Without context, a great disservice is being extended to the public.
We certainly respect that the vast majority of citizens cannot make or do not have the time or interest or inclination to understand what’s at stake. There is an ongoing, determined effort by too many to at best muddle the issues enough to draw little or no attention from the public to the challenges we face. “Public interest” does not appear to factor into their motivations. Too few are benefiting at the expense of too many. Sound familiar? (It’s not a coincidence.)
Being prepared, understanding the issues, knowing both the positive and the negative aspects of energy supply and production affords citizens their best opportunity to either contribute meaningfully as we address and adapt to the looming problems, or to engage their leaders in more substantive dialogue in order to direct more specific actions. Not knowing there are any problems makes it a wee bit difficult to accomplish any of this. The consequences will thus only be worse. Not a good option.
If nothing else, citizens should easily appreciate that there are two sides to most stories. Too many are telling too many others only one side of the story—and facts tend not to play much of a role.
A topic of particularly contentious dispute concerns the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
To his credit, the Chevron executive was very clear in stating that he supports the disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking. He also wanted to downplay their significance, stating that the process includes “less than 1 percent chemical additives.”
The problem, however, is that his personal support of disclosure is not shared by most in the industry, and certainly not by the companies doing the fracking. This suggests more than a casual problem, unless undisclosed and unknown chemicals being pumped into and on your property (and a distinct possibility of radioactive waste) are not a concern of yours. Some are troubled by this, however. Imagine!
Frack fluid that is injected into the wells contains a toxic soup of hundreds of chemicals, including carcinogens and volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Companies aren’t required to disclose what chemicals they’re using either — so it makes it difficult to test for leaks and spills, and for people to be treated for health problems that may arise from exposure.
Oh yeah, and fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act — thanks Dick Cheney! 
By now you likely know that most states (and the federal government) don’t require companies that frack oil and gas wells to disclose the multitude of chemicals in the toxic slurry that gets pumped underground. This is problematic for so many reasons, and here is just the latest. Ben Elgin, Benjamin Haas and Phil Kuntz reported for Bloomberg that, ‘A subsidiary of Nabors Industries Ltd. (NBR) pumped a mixture of chemicals identified only as ‘EXP- F0173-11’ into a half-dozen oil wells in rural Karnes County, Texas, in July.’
‘Few people outside Nabors, the largest onshore drilling contractor by revenue, know exactly what’s in that blend. This much is clear: One ingredient, an unidentified solvent, can cause damage to the kidney and liver, according to safety information about the product that Michigan state regulators have on file.  [ links in the original quote]
What is clear is that the production of shale gas involves extraordinary environmental impacts compared with conventional gas drilling. these include …:
Contamination of surface water, and potentially drinking water, through improper disposal of toxic produced drilling fluids containing salts, radioactive elements, and other toxins. Toxic produced drilling fluids, which amount to 15% to 80% of the 2 million to 8 million gallons of water injected during hydraulic fracturing for each well, are disposed of through either reinjection, surface disposal and treatment at wastewater treatment facilities, or, less commonly, recycling. Recycling involves distilling purified water from the drilling waste, which still leaves a residue of toxins and is very energy intensive. The surface disposal of toxic drilling fluids and the fluids’ potential to contaminate drinking water with radionuclides and other contaminants has recently been documented by the New York Times. Indeed, efforts by shale gas producers to remain exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act are surely
counterproductive and counterintuitive if the production of shale gas is really as benign as the industry contends.  [footnotes are included in the original quote]
That last comment alone speaks volumes about the “safety” of hydraulic fracturing. Claims that disclosures would reveal “trade secrets” or otherwise “proprietary” information and practices may be protected under law, but what of the citizens exposed to potential hazards? Shouldn’t their well-being carry a bit more weight than sketchy business concerns? [Hard to believe that disclosing chemicals used will open the floodgates to new competition, given the tens of millions of dollars required just to drill a few wells.]
A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that the majority of states where fracking occurs have no disclosure laws at all, and that those that do are woefully behind when it comes to revealing behind-the-scenes details of their operations. While the Obama administration has put some new rules in place, many decisions about what drillers are allowed to hide are left to the states; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar complained to Reuters that state-level regulation is ‘not good enough for me, because states are at very different levels — some have zero; some have decent rules.’
That’s a problem, study author Amy Mall said, because unlike coal plants and other large-scale energy operations, fracked natural gas wells are often in close proximity to houses, schools, or other high-traffic areas.
At stake is a trove of information: exact ingredients of the chemical cocktail used to frack a particular site, when and where drillers plan to frack, how toxic wastewater is to be dealt with, and many more basic details, all of which could be useful to local politicians and residents concerned about health impacts, groundwater and air pollution, and seismic activity associated with fracking.
‘The state laws on the books aren’t anywhere near where they need to be for the public to have information to protect their communities,’ Mall said.  [ links in the original quote]
This is a good thing? This is what we’re doing in order to maintain fossil fuels supplies? Might be a great time to consider some different options … and a lot more sharing of facts.
Back next week with more.
* My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 07.05.10
[ links to the first four posts of this series]:
 http://www.salon.com/2013/01/11/5_reasons_natural_gas_wont_save_us/; 5 reasons natural gas won’t save us by Tara Lohan – 01.11.13
 http://www.alternet.org/fracking/4-scary-new-finds-about-fracking-week; 4 Scary New Finds About Fracking This Week by Tara Lohan – 12.06.12
 http://www.postcarbon.org/report/331901-report-will-natural-gas-fuel-america; Will Natural Gas Fuel America in the 21st Century? – May 2011 report by J. David Hughes (Post Carbon Institute); p 27
 http://grist.org/climate-energy/the-secrets-drillers-can-hide-about-the-fracking-in-your-backyard/; The secrets drillers can hide about the fracking in your backyard by Tim McDonnell – 08.01.12