Dear Mr. President,
In your January 26, 2012, State of the Union address you seemed to indict that you believed that High Volume Slick Water Hydraulic Fracturing (commonly known as Fracking) was a safe process for the extraction of natural gas from shale formations such as the Marcellus Shale Play.
As a journalist who has been actively involved in the investigation of the environmental consequences of Fracking the Marcellus since plans were first announced; I feel compelled by conscience and my respect for you and your office to write to you and try to inform you of several critical issues that bear on the actual safety and advisability of allowing the Fracking process for natural gas extraction.
There were some significant misstatements in your address that I assume are a matter of your speech writers having used inaccurate or out of date information. The Department of Energy just updated the estimates of the actual amount of natural gas contained in the Marcellus. This current estimate is only about 1/3 of the original estimate of the amount in the Marcellus. The original estimate is the one that the “100 year’s worth” of natural gas was based on; so the actual volume and thus time of use of the natural gas is much less.
The estimate of the jobs that will be created is also consequently overestimated by a factor of three. A look at the initial industry estimates as compared to the actual jobs as determined by a State of Pennsylvania study is very instructive. The original industry estimate of jobs that Fracking would create was about 110,000. The actual number of jobs created as per the State of Pennsylvania study was about 10,000. The industry promise on jobs was wildly overestimated by a factor of over 10 to 1. In addition, many of these actual jobs were in fact merely only new to Pennsylvania because they were transfers of existing workers from Ohio gas fields into Pennsylvania; so not true new job creation.
On the matters of actual safety; an already begun and ongoing group of studies by the EPA has already found several instances of the Fracking process being deemed very likely or actually proven to be responsible for the contamination and pollution of drinking water supplies in several locations in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. The contamination found was either Fracking fluid or methane gas (the main ingredient in natural gas), migrating from the drilled and Fracked wells into drinking water supplies. This is in addition to the many well-site, highway and dumping spills of Fracking fluid, diesel fuel and other toxic chemicals used in the Fracking process.
The issue of the disposal of the toxic Fracking fluid contaminated waste water, (about 3 to 5 million gallons per Fracked well), is also of major concern for many environmental experts and organizations. The dumping of untreated Fracking waste water in streams and rivers, expecting dilution to solve the public health and safety risks, which was used at first in Pennsylvania, was quickly banned as an absolute environmental disaster. Then passing the Fracking waste water through water treatment plants was tried; but again it was discovered that many of the toxic substances, including radioactive material, could not be removed from the water and passed out of the treatment plants untreated. This method was also banned. The only remaining method of deals with the hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic Fracking waste water, currently in use, is the injection into deep abandoned gas wells. However that method of disposal has recently been determined to be responsible for causing earthquakes in the vicinity of the injection wells in both Arkansas and Ohio. These earthquakes increases the probability of the opening of new fissures in the rock substructure and thus an increase of the possibility of the migration of Fracking fluid into the aquifers and water supplies above. Injection has been stopped in Arkansas and several wells in Ohio have been closed to injection and it’s probably only a matter of time before more are closed or the entire process banned in Ohio and other places under consideration. This will leave no currently available safe way of disposing of the huge volumes of toxic Fracking waste water.
Many of the numerous potential dangers Fracking presents and current environmental, public health and safety issues are unable to be addressed are a direct result of the changes made to the EPA’s Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts in 2005. These changes created exemptions from EPA oversight given to the oil and gas industry, which has traditionally been among the dirtiest and most environmentally destructive. They came about as a product of the secret meetings which then Vice President Dick Chaney held with leaders of major oil and gas conglomerates. It is no coincidence that Halliburton, the company that Chaney once ran, is one of the major producers of Fracking fluid. It has even been suggested by engineers that work for no less an oil and gas authority than T. Boone Pickens (who favors LP as a fluid for Fracking), that Halliburton and other Fracking fluid providers change their formula and keep them secret in order to enable them to dispose of toxic petrochemical by-products which cannot be safely or cost effectively disposed of in other ways. If the oversight of the EPA of the oil and gas industry eliminated in 2005, were appropriately restored to the agency, it is very unlikely that Fracking would be allowed to proceed until the EPA’s current studies are completed.
A correlated problem created by Fracking is the massive amounts of clean water the process uses and contaminates. Water is a precious, essential and limited resource. Counties which are the epicenter of proposed Fracking of the Marcellus in New York State, are also the headwaters of both the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, which provides the potable water for New York City, most of New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, and much of Maryland and Delaware. It is absolutely essential that these vital watersheds be protected from any additional contamination and pollution. Progress in establishing regulations regarding cleaning these watersheds of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays has been slow, but steady. But these water systems are as fragile as they are essential; so the possibilities of the severe negative environmental consequences which Fracking presents is much too great a risk, with too vital a resource to allow when all the current problems of the Fracking process are considered.
The potential for drinking water contamination and the public health and safety dangers that Fracking presents, has been acknowledged by the banning of Fracking in the areas of New York State that are the water supply for New York City and the city of Syracuse. However the entire Southern, Central and Western parts of New York State are being proposed as a “sacrificial zone” where Fracking will be allowed. This endangers an area from just east of Binghamton all the way to New York’s western border and from the Pennsylvania state line north through the Finger Lakes to Lake Ontario. Why the environment and the people who live in these parts of New York are not protected in the same way that New York City, Syracuse and the Hudson Valley are; is so far a question with no clear and acceptable answer.
The issue of natural gas as a “clean” source of energy has been questioned by several University studies. These studies have found that when the entire cycle of production of natural gas is considered, including all the leakage involved in the producing and distribution; due to the fact that Methane is 20 to 30 times worse as a green house gas than CO2, natural gas is as great a threat to our global climate as is coal as a fuel.
At this point in the history of the American people, the need for a clear, progressive and active commitment to the domestic development of clean, sustainable forms of energy is absolutely essential to America having a productive future. Any efforts which in any way slow or diminish our developing 21st century sustainable energy resources is a waste of critic, limited resources. The idea of committing to the expanded use of any fossil fuel, such as natural gas will only serve to make more difficult and uncertain our efforts to develop all the many potential sustainable energy sources, such as; wind, solar, geothermal and most appealing of all ocean hydroelectric/hydrogen fuel cell technology. If we as a nation are truly serious and really committed to developing clean, safe, sustainable alternative energy production; we must start right now, make real substantial progress in 3 to10 years, or risk it being a case of too little-too late. Thus there really is no need for any “transitional” commitment to natural gas, because there is much more than 10 years of fossil fuel reserves currently. If we are truly touting a false pronouncement of 100 years worth of natural gas; we aren’t really committing to change and that makes it too late already.
The protection of the environment, as well as the health and safety of the citizens of any part of the United States, should never be subject to any form of politically based decision. The power of the petrochemical industry is well know and well documented; as is the reckless and irresponsible way they have often pursued profit at the expense of environmental and human health and safety. I recognize it is difficult to face the possibility of the enormous economic resources of the multinational oil and gas industry being arrayed against someone in the political arena. But the job of any representative of the people in our democracy, be they a local official, a Governor or a President, is serve and protect the best interest of the vast majority people, against those who seek to endanger them; no matter how powerful the opponent or difficult the challenge. The future will only belong to those willing to accept the challenges, be they political and/or economic; and do the right things for the health, safety and prosperity of the American people. I believe you know this to be true in your heart and your mind; and want to do what is right and best for America.
Thank you for time and attention in reading, reflecting and considering what I have tried to communicate in this letter. If you have any additional questions or would care to see or hear more details or references relevant to what I put forward, please feel free to contact me in any way that is convenient.
Donald McKinley Allen