This is the sixth 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.
Once again making the fracking process start to finish sound like not much more than a walk in the park, the Chevron official then said:
Once a well is completed, a pipeline is built to take the natural gas to market to be used for electricity generation, home heating and other energy needs. We then work with the landowner to remediate the drill site and restore the land with minimal impact to its original contours.
After the well site has been remediated, the remaining footprint of a producing natural gas well is typically less than one acre. It includes a well head, a gas processing unit and one or two water tanks. Natural gas wells that produce from shale rock are typically expected to have a long production life spanning many years.
If only if were that simple….
Fracking is not limited to shale gas production. It is also being used extensively to produce “tight” oil from shale formations. In fact, its relative success is largely responsible for the recent upticks in U.S. production totals. The process itself is not significantly different, and thus the same issues and concerns experienced in other areas of the country (primarily in the Bakken formation whose principal drilling locations are in North Dakota and Montana) apply here.
Evelyn Nieves and Nicholas Kusnetz in particular (here and here) offered wonderful overviews of what residents in North Dakota have been dealing with since fracking became a prime industry there. The titles of those two articles each offer a glimpse of the storylines: “The North Dakota Oil Fracking Boom Creates Clash of Money and Devastation” and “North Dakota’s Oil Boom Brings Damage Along With Prosperity.”
The stories they shared are strikingly similar to accounts regarding residents in the Marcellus formation here in eastern portions of the U.S. I’ve previously mentioned Ms. Nieves’ piece, and found one description particularly telling, so much so that I’ll repeat it here:
No one imagined tanker trucks barreling up and down Main Street, back-to-back like freight trains, seven days and nights a week. No one predicted construction zones that grind traffic to a halt as far as the eye can see, the deafening clatter of semis, the dust kicked up by 10,000 vehicles pulverizing the two-lane road every day or the smell and taste of diesel. No one anticipated the accidents, two or more a week on Main Street and all over the rutted reservation roads, costing lives and shattering families.
In fact, Fort Berthold, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, or Three Affiliated Tribes, did not reckon on a lot when North Dakota invited the energy industry to Drill Baby Drill. No one knew that energy companies in search of housing for their workers would buy private property and evict some of the reservation’s poorest residents from their homes. No one planned on police and fire calls multiplying. No one guessed that on a reservation of nearly one million acres, all the deer would disappear
Tara Lohan introduced a description of several truck accidents with accompanying fracking fluid leaks by observing this:
One of the main complaints you’ll get from people living near fracking operations is truck traffic, whether it’s North Dakota or Pennsylvania or any other gasland state. People have seen their rural roads and quality of life decimated by thousands of daily truck trips. They worry about diesel emissions, relentless dust on dirt roads, accidents and spills — and they have every reason to be concerned. Here’s a little sampling of what people in West Virginia experienced last weekend.
In another article I cited in a prior post of this series, Roberta Brandes Gratz shared this:
A recent visit to Bradford and Susquehanna Counties in northeastern Pennsylvania, currently a prime drilling target, revealed very troubling impacts that have received little attention so far. On scenic farm roads that never before bordered anything but farms — not even a gas station — industrial sites are sprouting left and right, representing the different segments of the gas production process — compressors, storage tanks, staging sites, maintenance operations and more.
Consider for example the situation in and near the towns of Wyalusing and Montrose. Both are small, historic towns, not quite fitting the description of ‘sleepy’ but, then again, not home to intense activity either. The library in Montrose is packed daily with gas company researchers poring over land deeds. The small hotel in Wyalusing is mostly filled with gas workers or deal makers. The coffee shop conversation on this short, storybook Main Street is filled with complaints about endless midnight truck traffic and news of residents trying to sell or move.
The road between these towns is a bucolic, windy, two-lane farm road. About midway is a staging area for trucks each carrying 50,000 lbs of sand. I observed roughly 30 trucks waiting to deliver to a nearby drill site under construction. The truckers report that each load had been trucked 80 miles from Wellesville, N.Y. One driver noted, that this typical site — a drill pad with six well holes — takes 480 million pounds of sand! At 50,000 pounds per truck driven 80 miles one-way — you do the math. Then calculate diesel fuel burned, exhaust released, road wear caused for that 80 mile trip for one pad of six wells. How could this be defined as clean energy? That doesn’t even begin to touch the controversy of the impact on global warming of the leaked methane during the drilling process.
And then there’s this:
A surge in hydraulic fracturing to get gas and oil trapped in rock means drillers need to haul hundreds of truckloads of sand, water and equipment for a single well. Drilling that added jobs and tax revenue for many states also has increased traffic on roads too flimsy to handle the 80,000-pound (36,300 kilogram) trucks that serve well sites.
The resulting road damage will cost tens of millions of dollars to fix and is catching officials from Pennsylvania to Texas off guard. Measures to ensure that roads are repaired don’t capture the full cost of damage, potentially leaving taxpayers with the bill, according to Lynne Irwin, director of Cornell University’s local roads program in Ithaca, New York. 
And a few other minor inconveniences. Earthquakes, for one, as Joe Romm explained. There are some other not-so-obvious consequences, also.
In addition to the environmental impacts of oil and gas production, including dangerous air and water contamination and destruction of wildlife habitat, NRDC is concerned about other impacts to communities that have been documented, such as increased crime, infrastructure burdens that require massive repair, and the growing demand for social and municipal services. Another serious impact is a large increase in the need for health care services. Communities with oil and gas development can see increased emergency room visits in particular, from traffic and occupational accidents.  [ links in the original article.]
(Ms. Mall has also written about the influx of hundreds of new children into school systems, with all the challenges associated, and how public safety officials are likewise inundated with significantly greater demands.)
And as for “long production life spanning many years” comment? Not quite. I’ll discuss that in Part 7.
* My Photo: Manhattan skyline – 09.05.09
[ links to the first five posts of this series]:
 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-15/taxpayers-pay-as-fracking-trucks-overwhelm-rural-cow-paths-1-.html; Taxpayers Pay as Fracking Trucks Overwhelm Rural Cow Paths by Jim Efstathiou Jr. – 05.15.12
 http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/oil_and_gas_industry_takes_a_t.html; Oil and gas industry takes a toll on local health care providers by Amy Mall – 12.28.12