Gasland the Movie

Here’s the critical passage from the FRAC Act: “Section 1421(d)(1) of the Safe Drinking Water Act is amended by striking subparagraph (B) and inserting: (B) includes the underground injection of fluids or propping agents pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil and gas production activities.”

Why would you need to “insert” new language into a 36-year-old statute if all you were looking to do is merely “restore” it?

Misrepresenting the Rules

(1:00:56) “Because of the exemptions, fracking chemicals are considered proprietary … The only reason we know anything about the fracking chemicals is because of the work of Theo Colborn … by chasing down trucks, combing through material safety data sheets, and collecting samples.”

With due respect to eminent environmental activist and former World Wildlife Fund staffer Theo Colborn, no one has ever had to “chas[e] down a truck” to access information on the materials used in the fracturing process.

That’s because there’s actually a much easier way to obtain that information: simply navigate to this website hosted by regulators in Pennsylvania, this one from regulators in New York (page 130; it will take a few moments to download), this one for West Virginia, this one maintained by the Ground Water Protection Council and the U.S. Department of Energy (page 63), and this one on the website of Energy In Depth.

(1:03:33) Dr. Colborn: “Once the public hears the story, and they’ll say, ‘Why aren’t we out there monitoring’? We can’t monitor until we know what they’re using. There’s no way to monitor. You can’t.”

According to environmental regulators from Josh Fox’s home state of Pennsylvania, “Drilling companies must disclose the names of all chemicals to be stored and used at a drilling site … These plans contain copies of material safety data sheets for all chemicals … This information is on file with DEP and is available to landowners, local governments and emergency responders.”

Environmental regulators from Fox’s adopted state of New York also testify to having ready access to this information. From the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) information page: “The [state] is assessing the chemical makeup of these additives and will ensure that all necessary safeguards and best practices are followed.”

According to the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), “[M]ost additives contained in fracture fluids including sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and diluted acids, present low to very low risks to human health and the environment.” GWPC members include state environmental officials who set and enforce regulations on ground water protection and underground fluid injection.

Mischaracterizing the Process

(6:50) “[Hydraulic fracturing] blasts a mix of water and chemicals 8,000 feet into the ground. The fracking itself is like a mini-earthquake. … In order to frack, you need some fracking fluid – a mix of over 596 chemicals.”As it relates to the composition of fluids commonly used in the fracturing process, greater than 99.5 percent of the mixture is comprised of water and sand. The remaining materials, used to help deliver the water down the wellbore and position the sand in the tiny fractures created in the formation, are typically components found and used around the house. The most prominent of these, a substance known as guar gum, is an emulsifier more commonly found in ice cream.

From the U.S. Dept. of Energy / GWPC report: “Although the hydraulic fracturing industry may have a number of compounds that can be used in a hydraulic fracturing fluid, any single fracturing job would only use a few of the available additives [not 596!]. For example, in [this exhibit], there are 12 additives used, covering the range of possible functions that could be built into a fracturing fluid.” (page 62)

In the documentary, Fox graphically depicts the fracturing process as one that results in the absolute obliteration of the shale formation. In reality, the fractures created by the procedure and kept open by the introduction of proppants such as sand are typically less than a millimeter thick.

(50:05) “Each well completion, that is, the initial drilling phase plus the first frack job, requires 1,150 truck trips.”

Suggesting that every well completion in America requires the exact same number of truck trips is absurd. As could be guessed, the number of trips required to supply the well site with the needed equipment and personnel will vary (widely) depending on any number of factors.

As it relates to a source for Fox’s identification of “1,150 truck trips,” none is given – although it appears he may have derived those numbers from a back-of-the-envelope calculation inspired by a chart on page 6-142 of this document from NY DEC. As depicted on that page, the transportation of new and used water supplies, to and from the wellsite, account for 85 percent of the trips extrapolated by Fox.

Unrepresented in this chart is the enormous growth in the amount of produced water that is currently being recycled in the Marcellus – with industry in Pennsylvania reusing and recycling on average more than 60 percent of its water, according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

According to GWPC: “Drilling with compressed air is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to drilling with fluids due to the increased cost savings from both reduction in mud costs and the shortened drilling times as a result of air based drilling.” (page 55)

(51:12) “Before the water can be hauled away and disposed of somewhere, it has to be emptied into a pit – an earthen pit, or a clay pit, sometimes a lined pit, but a pit – where a lot of it can seep right back down into the ground.”

The vast majority of energy-producing states – 27 in total, including all the ones to which Fox travels for GasLand – have explicit laws on the books governing the type of containment structures that must be used for temporarily storing flowback water. A number of producers today choose to store this water in steel tanks, eliminating all risk of that water re-entering the surrounding environment.

GWPC (May 2009) “In 23 states, pits of a certain type or in a particular location must have a natural or artificial liner designed to prevent the downward movement of pit fluids into the subsurface. … Twelve states also explicitly either prohibit or restrict the use of pits that intersect the water table.” (page 28-29)

GWPC (April 2009): “Water storage pits used to hold water for hydraulic fracturing purposes are typically lined to minimize the loss of water from infiltration. … In an urban setting, due to space limitations, steel storage tanks may be used.” (page 55)

Flat-Out Making Stuff Up

(53:36) “The Pinedale Anticline and the Jonah gas fields [of Wyoming] are directly in the path of the thousand year old migration corridor of pronghorn antelope, mule deer and sage grouse. And yeah, each of these species is endangered, and has suffered a significant decline of their populations since 2005.”

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