Ithaca Times

Professor, Landowner Sound Alarm on Gas Drilling

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Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 3:49 pm

“I refuse to call it fracking,” said Professor Tony Ingraffea, addressing citizens of Spencer at the Town Hall. “If it was just fracking, we could all go home tonight.”

    The informational meeting, held March 27, featured Ingraffea, who worked with the oil and gas industry for 25 years and served as a consultant to Schlumberger, and Craig Stevens, a landowner from Pennsylvania who described the destruction of his land by dishonest gas industry reps and the government officials who help them profit thereby.

    Ingraffea began by addressing myths around the new shale gas drilling technologies, beginning with fracking – hydraulic fracturing.

    Displaying an illustration of a shale gas well and its underground components, Ingraffea explained that hydraulic fracturing has been done for decades. “That’s not the problem,” he said. “The problem is that unconventional shale gas drilling requires four technologies: directional drilling, high frack fluid volume, slickwater, multi-well pads and cluster drilling.” These technologies, he said, put drinking water at risk for contamination with biocides, heavy metals, salts, radioactive materials, endocrine disruptors, and oils.

    He described the well as a four inch steel pipe inserted two miles under the ground, first vertically then horizontally, into the Marcellus shale layer. Since methane gas is embedded in the shale, force must be expended to crack the shale apart and shake the methane out. Water and chemicals added to enhance the process comes out of holes in the pipe under great pressure, then is drawn back in with the methane bonded to some of its components.

    Ingraffea described scenarios in which the gas, rather than going directly into the pipe, can migrate up the outside of the pipe, or even toward the surface through other fractures in the rock. Since the pipe is four inches, the hole it’s in has to be larger: generally, five inches. To seal the pipe, wet cement is pumped down the hole to fill in around the pipe, but this is the tricky part.

    “The three biggest problems in the oil and gas industry are cement, cement, and cement,” said Ingraffea. “It’s really hard to do a perfect cement job. Does anybody know what caused the BP oil well failure in the Gulf of Mexico? Cement.”

    The cement, he said, has to bond with a grease-coated stainless steel pipe on one side, and also with the rocks, minerals, and mud on the other side. “The problem is the outside layer of cement. If the outside layer fails, the inside layer doesn’t matter.” The intermediate layers of rock, between the Marcellus and the surface, also have methane in them that can migrate upward through a drilled hole. “The well also has to be sealed against them.”

    Using a video from Southwestern Energy, an energy company primarily engaged in natural gas and crude oil exploration, development and production, Ingraffea tried to communicate the fail rate of gas wells. In a graph from the industry, 60 percent of wells had failed within 28 years.

    “How long does a well have to last?” He asked the audience. “Forever.” Meanwhile, industry statistics put the failure rate at 6.2 percent: thus of the 50,000 wells projected for New York State by the DEC, 2500 would fail.

    “We will have contamination of underground sources of drinking water,” he said. Ingraffea added that he “is not getting paid for this,” and emphasized to the audience that they are the ones – the landowners – who control what can happen on their land.

    The next speaker, Craig Stevens, described how little control he has had over unconventional shale gas drilling in his hometown of Silver  Lake, Pennsylvania. A sixth generation landowner of the same property – “my ancestors are buried down the road-“ Stevens, who wore an NRA hat, said, “This isn’t about politics. I’m a conservative Republican. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you’re on.”

    The property in Silver Lake township, he said, is 115 acres, owned by himself, his aunt and uncle, and (formerly) his father and grandmother. “They signed my 95 year old grandmother to a ten year gas lease,” said Stevens. “They found her in the nursing home… you know what they paid her? $135. They signed my aunt and uncle as a ratifier; they signed my Dad, even though he’d been dead six weeks when they got his signature. You can check all these documents at the courthouse.”

    The gas company then sold the lease to a Norwegian gas drilling outfit operated by the Norwegian government: “The country of Norway owns 1/3 rights under my property, and it happened without my knowledge. When I called to say I own a third and they didn’t get my signature they said, ‘Pennsylvania is a one percent state.’ They didn’t need it.”

    “There’s money to be made in this,” said Stevens to the audience, “But YOU are not going to get it.” The lease his grandmother signed sets the Stevens’ families royalties at 12.5 percent: the gas company gets the other 87.5 percent, including whatever secondary profits they can make. He said, the set up of the well is taken out of the leaseholder’s royalties. Further, “Where’s the meter? I can go outside my house and read the gas meter and pretty much calculate how much gas I’m using and what my gas bill’s going to be. How do you know how much gas they’re getting out of your well? There’s no meter. They won’t tell me what I’m going to get paid.”

    Stevens’ property has a pipeline through it as well. When the pipeline had a problem, the Department of Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania and the Fish & Boat Commission charged the gas company with criminal behavior, and forced the company to clean up. It took them two months to address the problem, he said, and the company reached a settlement agreement with both state agencies. When he asked the state for help with the damage to his property, he was told the case was settled. “There’s a little bit of money in it, folks,” he repeated, “But you’re not getting any of it. I didn’t see a penny of those fines.”

    “On July 29 they blew out the bottom of the creek in my yard…” one of the drilling trucks (that came in to fix it) flipped over onto a pickup truck driven by his neighbor, John Jones. “John was 57; everybody loved him… he would help anybody. His 17 year old daughter was standing outside the truck (and watched him die)…” The driver of the truck disappeared, he said. “Back to Texas, or wherever. And that’s another thing. The jobs don’t go to local people, the only money being made by local people is if they’re in a business that provides services to the gas companies.”

    Stevens also reported developments concerning the 14 families in Dimock who sued Cabot after their drinking water was contaminated. Of the $4.1 million settlement, he said, “Half of it is in the bank and it’s staying there. They won’t touch it. They consider it blood money. They don’t want any money, they want their clean water back.” Since the settlement last November, Cabot stopped providing those families with ‘water buffaloes’, portable tanks of potable water, and government officials  have not helped. Stevens and other Pennsylvania residents have joined forces to bring water to the Dimock families.

    “The industry will challenge everything I say,” said Stevens, “But they won’t come to Dimock and drink the water.”  

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