You’re absolutely right. I get so steamed about the industry’s sanctimonious flag-waving on “energy independence.” Total BS. They are building two new pipelines and pumping stations across our state, from the Ohio line to Philadelphia, expressly to sell the liquified natural gas to Asia and Europe (whoever will pay the best price, which is low at the moment due to overproduction.)
I was pretty good friends with one of the first drilling company senior field engineers who was sent in to start the fracking operations here in the Marcellus “play” in 2004 – he had worked for Halliburton and Brown and Root while they were developing the technology in the Middle East and probably knew as much about it as anyone. He was an avid outdoorsman, kayaker and skier, and cared about the potential environmental impacts.
At first he was rather defensive about protests against it because he said it could be done safely. But he did admit that the technology was still very inefficient and that they lost as much as 50% of the gas volume to leaks and flaming off, especially when it was done in haste. He eventually got into conflict with his employer when they pressured him to cut corners with his field crews and would not penalize tanker drivers for dumping the contaminated fluids into local waterways instead of impounding them or taking them to processing facilities. He tried to get them to do right and finally gave up and quit (since he knew he was going to be fired and that they were trying to set him up for “due cause.”
My argument has been that if these gas reserves are “so critical for future national energy security” then the rational approach should be to KEEP THEM IN THE GROUND until we have developed cleaner and more productive means of extracting them. I even suggested they be declared a Federal reserve and extraction kept to a fixed and long term sustainable level. The gas is not only being wasted by poor technology in extraction, it is being squandered in what it is mainly being used for: power generation. While there are many different sources for generating power, from coal to hydro to solar to biomass to wind to tidal currents to waste combustion – there are many products that specifically require natural gas including plastics production and the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers (and until we can increase the shift to organic and biodynamic agriculture we are stuck with using synth-fert on our rapidly degrading arable land.) There needs to be a rational national priority on how finite resources are going to be extracted and allocated. But of course this flies in the face of “Capitalism” and the “free market”.
For more than a decade the drillers have been in a reckless free-for-all, creating boom-bust cycles in remote regions in the various “plays”. We’ve already begun to see the effects on rural areas that bought into the boom propaganda – small towns and country crossroads seeing a rapid influx of jobs and money while the mostly out-of-town rigging and drilling crews are in the area, renting motel rooms, eating and drinking at instantly prospering diners and bars, buying supplies and hiring locals for laborer and transport jobs. But a year or two later, after all the wells are dug and the automatic monitors and compressor stations are in place and there are no more jobs, suddenly you see yards full of fancy new “toys” that the locals can no longer afford sporting “for sale” signs – pimped out dual axle pickup trucks, fancy ATV’s and powerboats, shiny new double-wide homes with above ground pools and hot tubs. These people were told that long-term prosperity was being delivered to them and it was a lie. Even the ones who leased their property found themselves, more often than not, being stiffed out of royalties by having “expenses” and “depreciation” deducted or not getting payments at all. Some were even back-charged by the drillers for operations that destroyed large portions of their land for any other future use. The industry is a scam and driven by greed and misinformation. And this does not even touch the groundwater damage they have done and the wells that they have fouled (which they and their well-paid lawyers vigorously deny.)
The industry has lied to the people in the regions where it mines as to the productivity of both individual wells and the extractive yield overall. Most wells experience a steep drop in production after the first year and the majority are not yielding enough after 5 to 10 years to bother to maintain, And statistics have proven that by the 10 year mark, virtually every frack well, even the most carefully double-encased types, has seriously leaked or ruptured at some point. While the industry tries to claim that they have been fracking in the US West for decades with “no problem”, they completely fail to mention that the geology and watersheds here are COMPLETELY different – strata here are more porous, striated, cracked and folded in this most ancient of Western Hemisphere mountain ranges (the Appalachians). I know what’s under our feet – I majored in Geology in a PA college.
My ex lived in the midst of one of the rural fracking boom areas (though one that was already beginning to wane economically 5 years ago.) We often came upon real devastation while hiking in the woods and meadows up there in North Central Pa. We would find untended and leaking “processed water” impoundment reservoirs with stinking sludge and dead wildlife around them, have to move campsites when we discovered that all night drilling with ranks of giant floodlights was going on nearby (even in National and State Forest areas!) and more than once stumbled on great “snakes” of sickly grey sludge oozing out of the ground along hillsides, clearly where a fracking lateral had gone astray in the corrugated terrain and burst through above ground.
Pennsylvania, which has been said to have more miles of streams and rivers than any US state but Alaska (if you look at a topo of the state, you can see why) had only really recovered many of its waterways from coal mining pollution in the last couple of decades of the 20th century – waters had cleared and game fish had been re-established in once-dead streams. Now we have an even bigger threat and too few people remember what it cost us to recover last time. The most precious commodities in the twenty-first century, world wide, are not going to be oil and gas, but arable land and potable water, and we are jeopardize a wealth of both in our state for the benefit of a small number of greedy companies who are killing their own golden goose.
Sorry for the rant – but this is something that really bothers me. And they have been making noises for over a year about putting a huge frack pad with multiple laterals less than a mile uphill from my house (within a densely populated residential section of the Pittsburgh metro area!) on an abandoned golf course. I know that I have defunct coal mines directly beneath a corner of my property, putting it at risk for subsidence and/or gas leakage from adjacent drilling operations. So I have NIMBY as well as overall ethical issues with fracking overall. And i think most Americans would have them too if they were really aware of the issues involved. I am not anti-extractive mining, I am against doing it recklessly, inefficiently and greedily.