Shale Gas Fuels The War on Science
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Impact Fee bill has finally taken shape, and before his new state budget address, as requested. With it, state majority leaders have carried his Methane torch, illuminating the notion that while Harrisburg may not sit atop the Marcellus Shale, it’s central to the nation's Fact-Free Zone.
“We will restore Science to its rightful place," said President Obama in his 2009 inaugural address. A few days later, Stephen Colbert glibly asked Chris Mooney, author of The New York Times bestseller, The Republican War on Science in an interview, “Should we tax and spend our way to knowledge?” Unfortunately, in the ultra-polemic Marcellus, where gas drilling is ramping up at a sickening pace, state research budgets continue to be cut and science has yet to gain much of a foothold.
Good Science vs. “Bad” Studies
Republican lawmakers repeatedly dismiss published, peer-reviewed studies while citing industry-friendly economic figures freely, as if their business acumen somehow compensates for a stunning dearth of facts. Because good science should never be dismissed by bad lawmakers, here’s the shortlist of landmark fracking studies that state leaders and the Gas Industry would rather you didn't see:
- The EPA Studies: Twenty-four years ago, the EPA sampled a mysterious goo in a Jackson County, W. Va. water well, and found that it was the same gel used to hydraulically fracture a gas well nearby. This 1987 study was unearthed last year by The Environmental Working Group. The discovery of the 1987 EPA study was posted by The New York Times and covered in-depth by Abrahm Lustgarten in ProPublica, among others.
- In 2011, the EPA announced plans to “characterize toxicity” in almost every stage of the hydraulic fracturing life-cycle. EPA also plans to summarize all available data obtained on chemicals and naturally occurring substances used and released during the hydraulic fracturing process in order to characterize and understand potential human health effects, including 1) Water Acquisition 2) Chemical Mixing 3) Well Injection 4) Flowback and Produced Water and 5) Wastewater Treatment and Waste Disposal.
- In 2011, the EPA also announced the “explosive” results of a study it conducted on water wells in Pavillion, Wyoming in response to complaints by residents that their water turned black soon after gas drilling began. EPA concluded that the chemicals in the wells were the same as those used in hydraulic fracturing.
- Case Study Locations for the hydraulic fracturing study were also announced in 2011, including two test sites in Pennsylvania, in Bradford and Washington Counties. To what extent the EPA is testing the life cycle of natural gas for toxic air emissions, or relying on data reported by drillers in each state, is a little hazier. In November, 2011, however, The Business Journal Daily reported that the agency was testing air samples at Ohio drilling sites.
- Cornell Professors Accused of Blowing Smoke: When it comes to selling the idea of a “cleaner-burning” fuel, Climate Change is a viable selling point for the gas industry. When it comes to getting shale gas out of the ground, eh, not so much... So there was plenty of backlash in April 2011, when Cornell University professors Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Dr. Tony Ingraffea, the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering, and Renee Santoro, a research technician in ecology and evolutionary biology, published their conclusion that Natural gas from fracking could be 'dirtier' than coal.
- The Duke Water Bomb: Ingraffea and Howarth’s April conclusions took only a fraction of the criticism, and even outright scorn, that was heaped on the Duke scientists who determined that Methane levels are 17 times higher in water wells near hydrofracking sites in May 2011. In the ensuing kerfuffle over data, and the privacy of landowners whose water wells were tested, the main conclusion of the Duke Water Study - that shallow methane migration warranted further study - was obscured.
- Penn State Fumbles: In October 2011, The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a state-funded agency, reported that seven water wells showed increased bromide levels after drilling. A few days later, however, researchers from Penn State University retracted the findings in The Wall Street Journal, saying that results from an independent water testing lab contained an error. Penn State revised the results downwards to one water well with increased bromide concentrations.
- Invisible Threat: The PA DEP is responsible for compiling a comprehensive Inventory of Air Emissions, and for reporting it to the EPA every three years. Shale gas industry operators are required to provide their air emissions data to the PA DEP by March 1, 2012.
- Worries Over Watersheds: Scientists and researchers at The Academy of Natural Sciences are taking a closer look at watersheds in the most heavily drilled regions of Pennsylvania. They want to determine how heavy concentrations of hydraulically fractured wells are impacting the ecologically sensitive environments of the Susquehanna River headwaters. Susan Phillips of State Impacts interviewed the field research team.
- Methane Is Murder: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s air sampling in Colorado shows methane measurements that disprove the Gas Industry's "cleaner burning fuel" claim. Methane (CH4) is a far more potent greenhouse than CO2. A 2011 study by was recently published in the international journal, Nature. According to Joe Romm at Climate Progress this is "more than double industry claims."
- Test, Baby, Test: A recent study authored by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald, appeared in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy. Their report, entitled Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health, studied the impacts on livestock which has come in contact with fracking fluids. The team concludes that "the most common health impacts involve reproduction, including stillborn calves and hairless puppies." Susan Phillips covers the details of Bamberger-Oswald study in StateImpact Pennsylvania, noting that "science is playing catch up to the shale gas boom."
For Even More Info...
Visit Amy Mall's Blog. A Senior Policy Analyst for The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC, Ms. Mall put out the call for people to share their first-hand experiences with hydraulic fracturing. Her blog is a comprehensive chronicle of the ecological and societal damage currently inflicted by the shale gas drilling industry.
Got Science? Corbett's new budget cuts funding to the PA Department of Environmental Protection by 40%. Tests are expensive. What should we test for? And who should pay for it?