Fracking–the process the oil and gas industry uses to extract fossil fuel as much as two miles below the ground–may directly impact the nation’s water supply, reduce water-based recreational and sports activity, and lead to an increase in the cost of food.
The cocktail soup required for each well requires about two million pounds of silica sand, as much as 100,000 gallons of toxic chemicals, and three to nine million gallons of fresh water. There are more than 500,000 active wells in the country.
In 2011, the last year for which data is available, Texas energy companies used about 26.5 billion gallons of water. Energy companies drilling Pennsylvania used the second greatest amount of water, followed by Colorado and Arkansas. Nuclear plants, which use more water, can recycle most of it. Because frack wastewater is toxic, oil and gas companies can’t recycle the contaminated water.
The water is provided by companies that draw up to three million gallons a day from rivers and lakes, by individuals who sell water from their ponds, and by municipalities. Steubenville, Ohio, is tapping one of its reservoirs to sell up to 700,000 gallons of water every day for five years to Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest players in the fracking industry.
Big EnergyHowever, fresh water is not unlimited.
Beginning about five years ago, the water in the nation’s aquifers has been decreasing significantly. The depletion since 2008, according to Leonard Konikow, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey. is about three times the rate as between 1900 through 2008.
Significant reductions in water availability are now common for the 1,450 mile long Colorado River, which provides water to about 40 million people in California and the southwest, including the agriculture-rich Imperial Desert of southeastern California. Lake Mead, a part of the Colorado system, provides water to Las Vegas and the Nevada desert communities; its water level is close to the point where the Department of the Interior will declare a water shortage and impose strict water-use regulation.
The depletion of the rivers, lakes, and aquifers is because of population growth, higher usage, climate change, and a severe drought that has spread throughout the Midwest and southwest for the past three years.
The C oalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), basing its analysis upon more than 25,000 wells, reports almost 47 percent of wells that use fracking were developed in areas with high or extremely high water stress levels; 92 percent of all gas wells in Colorado are in extremely high-stressed regions; In Texas, 51 percent are in high or extremely high stress water regions.
Water is so critical to fracking that oil and gas companies have been paying premium prices, as much as $1,000–$2,000 for about 326,000 gallons (an acre foot) and outbidding farmers in the drought-ravaged parts of the country for the water; the normal price is about $30–$100 for the same amount. Oil and gas drillers have also been trucking in water to the Midwest and southwest from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania. The companies are “going to pay what they need to pay,” said Dr. Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.
If farmers have to pay more for water, they will raise the prices of their product. If they can’t get enough water, because the energy companies are taking as much as they can get, they grow fewer crops and reduce the size of their livestock herds; this, also, will force food prices up. It’s a simple case of supply and demand.
But, there are other problems. Some farmers and owners of corporate farms who have large water resources often sell that water to the energy companies; they can get more money for the water and leave their fields barren than they can get for growing crops and selling them to wholesalers and distributors.
Another reality may be driving food prices higher.
Fossil fuel mining and agriculture have always co-existed. But, that is changing.
Beneath about 200,000 square miles of North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan, lying between 4,500 and 7,500 feet below the surface of the earth, is the Bakken Shale. Oil in the shale was discovered in 1953; however, because the shale is only 13 to 140 feet thick, using conventional drilling methods were marginally profitable until five years ago with the development of horizontal fracking.
The Bakken Shale lies directly below one of the most fertile wheat fields in the United States. North Dakota farmers produce almost three-fourths of all amber durum harvested in the United States. High in protein and one of the strongest of all wheat, amber durum is a base for most of the world’s food production. It is used for all pastas, pizza crusts, couscous, and numerous kinds of breads. Red durum, a variety, is used to feed cattle. North Dakota farmers in late Summer harvest about 50 million bushels (about 1.4 million tons) of amber durum, almost three-fourths of all amber durum produced in the United States. About one-third of the production is exported, primarily to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Destruction of the wheat fields, from a combination of global warming and fracking, will cause production to decline, prices to rise, and famine to increase.
Energy company landmen, buying land and negotiating min eral rights leases, became as pesky as aphids in the wheat fields. However, the landmen didn’t have to do much sweet talking with the farmers, many of whom were hugging bankruptcy during the Great Recession. The farmers yielded parts of their land to the energy companies in exchange for immediate income and the promise of future royalties. By November 2012 there were 7,791 wells in North Dakota .
In 2006, oil production in the North Dakota fields was about 92 million gallons. Energy companies are expected to mine more than 15.2 billion gallons this year. Drilling for oil also yields natural gas; there are about two trillion barrels of natural gas in the shale.
In Pennsylvania, 17,000 acres have already been lost to the development of natural gas fracking. That land is not likely to be productive for several years because of “compaction and landscape reshaping,” according to a study by the Penn State Extension Office. U.S. Geological Survey scientists conclude there is a “low probability that the disturbed land will revert back to a natural state in the near future.”
The presence of natural gas drilling companies has also led to decreased milk and cheese production. Penn State researchers Riley Adams and Dr. Timothy Kelsey concluded: ” Changes in dairy cow numbers also seem to be associated with the level of Marcellus shale drilling activity.” Counties with 150 or more Marcellus shale wells on average experi enced an 18.7 percent decrease in dairy cows, compared to only a 1.2 percent average decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells.”
Beneath some of the nation’s richest agricultural land in drought-ravaged central California lies the Monterrey Shale, a 1,750 square mile formation that holds about two-thirds of the country’s estimated shale oil reserves, about 15.4 billion barrels (647 trillion gallons). The landmen have already arrived to buy leases and set up what is likely to be the biggest oil and gas boom in the country.
More than 200 different crops are grown in the central valley, including about 70 percent of the world’s supply of almonds, most of the grape production and 90 percent of all domestic wine sold in the United States. The Sun-Maid farm cooperative, headquartered in the Central Valley, is one of the world’s largest producers of raisins and dried fruits.
When the politicians unleashed Big Energy to frack the nation and extract gas, they parroted industry claims that extensive drilling would improve the economy, lower natural gas prices, and help make the United States energy independent from having to import foreign oil. What is happening is that the companies have purchased far too much land, are in heavy debt with the banks, and have a glut of natural gas that has forced the prices to the lowest level in almost 10 years.
The solution is that these patriotic corporations, to reduce the glut and force domestic residential prices back up as the mined gas becomes less available, are developing extensive plans to export natural gas to countries that will pay significantly higher prices than what is currently charged in the American market.
There is one problem. The United States can’t import water.
You Drank Your Water – Postcard Campaign by North West Network Against Fracking
The government has said that there will be no fracking until the next EPA study is completed, not until at least 2014. However, the last EPA report was produced by Aberdeen University, which has strong ties to the fossil fuel industry. How do we know that the new study will not be compromised?
The people are not reassured by the government’s promises. The Irish anti-fracking campaign will go on and is getting stronger every day.
Campaigners have produced a postcard that highlights the greatest problem with shale gas extraction – the irreversible pollution to our water. Can Ireland afford to contaminate its most precious resource, the source of our agriculture industry, and the source of all life?
Add your voice to your neighbours’! Call on our elected representatives and civil servants to respect the wishes of the Irish people and ban fracking.
You can download the photo here: http://frackingfreeireland.org/info-to-download/postcards/
Nick Flores is an economist who knows the oil-and-gas industry from the inside, having been in the merchant marines hauling platforms and rigs to sundry locations in the Gulf. Industry exposure didn’t end there; he was in grad school six months after the Exxon Valdez sullied the Arctic shore and studied first-hand the economics of accidents. He was not dismayed. In his words, “Shale gas is a revolution. It has transformed energy in America. What we’re seeing now is but the tip of the iceberg.” He didn’t say from which dwindling sheet it might have been calved.
Yet Flores is not utterly enchanted by the industry. There is what he terms a problem of externalities, meaning that the full cost of the venture is not appreciated when such “routine” risks as methane leaks and pollution of ground or surface water, and “high-priority” risks such as cement, drill-casing, and wastewater-impoundment failures, are not factored into the economic analysis. Such externalities are often expensive and not easily addressed, and should be internalized to reflect real costs.
Having lived in San Francisco, which receives water from the Hetch Hetchy water system, a system so pristine it is one of the few for which the Environmental Protection Agency requires no filtration, Flores comprehends the preciousness of pure water. He wonders what will happen if in our zeal to poke the earth we should inadvertently pollute a major aquifer such as the Ogallala, which underlies eight states and once contained water equal in quantity to Lake Huron. (It too is dwindling.) If such an integral resource should be fouled by whatever means, what then? Part of the damage hits the pocketbook. In heavily fracked Washington County, Pennsylvania, property values have declined almost 25 percent in places overlying aquifers through which drillers cement their casings. Is it “right” that property values have declined, or is it just perception? The answer is unimportant; all that matters is perception’s effect on the market.
Flores notes EPA’s limp-wristed governance of greenhouse gases. Methane, the major component of natural gas, is utterly ignored. (Oh, there are voluntary programs.) EPA may have downsized its prior estimate of how much methane leaks from fracking wells, but that puts it at odds with NOAA‘s recent study. Who is right? In any case, geologists and EPA agree that, compared to conventional drilling, hydraulic fracturing leaks more methane. Fracking fluid is injected and then pumped out (or a percentage is), but it returns laden with natural gas and other disinterred volatile chemicals that if released foul the air around drill sites. An estimated 90 percent of this “burping” can be captured in a “green-completion” process that caps the well and separates the petrochemicals for later sale. Even though this is of economic benefit of drillers, however, it is by no means always done; old fields may lack technology while new fields may have neither pipelines nor storage facilities built, and meanwhile methane seeps away. As you may know, methane in the atmosphere is a serious contender in atmospheric warming. Atmospheric methane gradually converts to carbon dioxide so it is over the short term that it does its damage. In its first 20 years, methane’s ability to capture heat in the atmosphere dwarfs that of carbon dioxide 70 times over.
Much like spent rods from nuclear plants and almost as dangerous, wastewater is a facet of fracking often overlooked and underfunded. Current options include dumping it into often-open holding pools, forcing it into injection wells, or recycling. Dumping it anywhere presents obvious problems including, with injection wells, persuasive evidence of earthquakes. Recycling would be great, but it’s not easy to clean water laced with not only heavy metals and radionuclides but dissolved salts, which require reverse osmosis or other exotic means to treat. (If desalinating salt water were easy, the world would have no freshwater problem, at least not yet.)
Options for dealing with wastewater are under creative review. Why not ship it away? (What do you mean there is no away?) Last March the Coast Guard “quietly” sent to the White House a proposal to put fracking wastewater on barges, said to be safer for transport than trucks and trains. The toxic brew will be shipped to someone else’s back yard for disposal. Yucca Mountain anyone? Frio County, Texas, which is not among the state’s top gas producers but that nevertheless has more disposal wells than the three top gas-producing counties combined, is evaluating a penny-a-barrel fee on disposed wastewater. The compensation is expected to bring the county over a million dollars a year, which would feed a fund to combat environmental damage.
We have such faith in compensation. While it comforts the aggrieved and pains the aggressor, that’s often as far as it goes. And the aggressor’s pain may be tiny indeed. Caps on damages provide a well-trod path for industry to escape real consequence for their sins. (Caps can zap citizens on the other cheek when they limit damages for civil suits.) In the end, let us not forget that no amount of compensation will restore what is irreplaceable.
Subterranean Aquifer Blues
Although groundwater property rights vary widely by state, they generally emphasize water quantity over contamination. Some landowners may use as much groundwater as they wish without regard for impacts anywhere else. This is called the Absolute Dominion Rule, and it is codified in 11 states, including Texas. “Use” in this case would include, I suppose, the right to pollute the groundwater. Colorado and other western states have adopted a doctrine of Prior Appropriation–the first landowner to “beneficially” use or divert water from underground is given priority over later users. Now many states have updated this doctrine with a permit system. Available permits are in hot pursuit; you can guess by whom.
When your well-water starts fizzing, fingering the culprit isn’t easy. Contaminants act differently underground, like senators behind doors. How do you prove who polluted the water, and when, and how? Equally important, what is to be done? EPA says that much progress on cleaning polluted aquifers has been made. Wells can shlep contaminated water to the surface for treatment. This intensive technology works if contaminants contain neither solvents nor oil and so long as the contamination has not spread. Since fracking fluid and wastewater are excluded and aquifers tend not to be contained, EPA’s assertion seems delusional.
Small producers lose their shirts in these times of low gas prices, so one might wonder why they keep drilling. Two reasons. Leases may mandate that lessees use their drilling rights or lose them. And prices may be low now, but just wait. Prices for natural gas in other areas–Japan, Europe–are much higher. It costs to convert gas to liquefied natural gas for long-distance transport, but producers have their eyes on the prize and preparations are being made. US prices will then rise; it won’t go the other way around.
It wasn’t so long ago that energy prices were rising in the face of looming energy scarcity. Very quickly shale-gas production has reversed that. In the first decade of this century, US gas production went from almost none to more than 10 billion cubic feet per day. In 2012, shale gas was 50 percent of the gas market; by 2035, Flores says, the percentage should swell to three-quarters. If oil imports diminish and “petro dollars” remain in the US, the dollar should be fortified and economic growth fueled by this bonanza. That is, to the extent that the bonanza remains both at low prices and here. And to the extent that climate change does not rudely intervene.
Natural gas may burn cleanly but it remains a fossil fuel. Our dependence on fossil fuels is irrevocably changing our world while we tend to our piquant concerns. Even if less is escaping at wellheads, incalculable amounts of methane now erupt from thawing Arctic tundra and waters. Will depleting a new fossil fuel will be our salvation?
This article is a good indication of where our Government stands on Fracking
The Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte called the advent of unconventional gas a “game changer” which must be considered here when he spoke on fracking at an information session at the Royal Academy in Dublin last week. His comments have been welcomed by Tamboran Resources but refuted by local anti fracking group Good Energies Alliance Ireland.
The Minister said “I believe that there is considerable genuine concern about the potential environmental and health considerations related to this activity and that the nature of the debate so far has tended to exacerbate these concerns,” he explained that “decisions taken must be based on transparent assessments of solid evidence. We need to study more of the science and less of the propaganda – on both sides of the argument.”
“The advent of unconventional oil and gas has been a ‘game-changer’ on the US energy market with global repercussions. As the EU is likely to remain a “higher” energy cost region in the future, it is unavoidable that we consider the impacts that unconventional oil and gas production will have on security of supply, energy prices and competitiveness,” he stated.
He said in Ireland we import all our oil and more than 90% of our gas and are vulnerable to interruptions in supplies, “The shale revolution is indeed a game-changer the effects of which must be considered on this side of the Atlantic.”
Speaking about the EPA study he said it will be 2014 before we have the geological and ground water data, impacts and mitigating measures and regulatory issues to inform the policy options here.
He noted that “our shared goal is to maximise the benefits to Ireland from our indigenous oil and gas resources. But we need to ensure that both exploration and production – conventional or unconventional, on land or at sea – are conducted safely and on an environmentally sound basis.”
This week, as President of the EU Council, Pat Rabbitte will host an informal meeting of the EU’s Energy Ministers in Dublin. The meeting will include an initial discussion on unconventional gas and oil.
Tamboran Resources, the company seeking to develop shale gas in North Leitrim welcomed the above comments. A spokesperson for Tamboran told the paper, “Energy costs are hurting households and businesses. Shale gas is one of the few game changers that can truly address these rising costs. The Minister’s reference to the impact of shale gas in the US, where it has resulted in a major boost in competitiveness and energy self-sufficiency, are noteworthy, particularly how shale gas is giving an advantage to America over Europe. The debate in Ireland about shale gas will continue, but we are now starting to see serious consideration of the issues based on science and economics.” The company said they are looking forward to the completion of the EPA study.
Ballinaglera’s Aedin McLoughlin of Good Energies Alliance Ireland said, “The EPA study, as described appears to be an exercise designed to pave the way for fracking.” She said the Minister’s speech “confirms that, despite 1,300 submissions being made to the EPA, the majority of which demanded a study of the health impacts of fracking, Minister Rabbitte confirmed that the study is confined to identifying “best practice in respect of environmental protection for the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques”.
She said it is “extremely disturbing that no health study is mentioned despite the clear wishes of the people.” Disputing that the shale revolution is a “game-changer,” GEAI said “Shale gas does not change the game of burning fossil fuels; it is not clean energy, despite the propaganda of the oil/gas industry; it is not a sustainable source of energy, disappearing once the gas is extracted; the gas produced would belong to the industry, not to the people, and would be sold on the international market at market price. Fracking will not bring cheap gas to Ireland, nor will it make us energy-secure.”
No Fracking Ireland called on the EU Ministers meeting in Dublin Castle this week to join with campaigners to work towards imposing an EU wide ban on hydraulic fracturing. In a statement the anti fracking group called on them to make it clear “that the citizens of the EU will not accept a technocratic imposition of extreme energy policies on the continent.”
A recent survey conducted by Eurobarometer at the request of the European Commission has shown that less than one in ten EU citizens think that unconventional fossil fuel extraction should be prioritised by the EU. Seven out of ten citizens, think that the EU should be prioritising the development of renewable fuels.
The group stated “Thousands in Ireland have already signed petitions calling for a ban on the process and campaigns are growing all over Europe against the development of such an industry. Moves to impose such an industry on the citizens of Europe in an anti-democratic manner by the EU Commission and by national governments will only serve to fuel the rapid development of the anti-fracking movement.”
If you externalize the costs of a business activity, it means other people pay the costs—environmental, social and otherwise—and you get the profits. It goes on all the time in extractive industries such as oil and natural gas and mining. And, it is also a natural strategy for manufacturers who dump their pollution into the air and the water.
It’s even practiced in finance where the executives of Wall Street banks have managed to collect the bonuses made off a phony boom in the last decade and saddle taxpayers with the losses of the inevitable bust caused by bad and often fraudulent loans, misleading derivative contracts, and leveraged speculation in stocks and commodities.
If the loopholes are there, you can be assured that people in business will take advantages of them. That’s exactly what is happening in the business of shale gas drilling. Drillers are exempt from federal clean air and water regulations under a bill shepherded through Congress in 2005 by none other former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney in his capacity as the then vice president of the United States. (Halliburton is one of the world’s largest providers of drilling fluids for shale gas drilling and other oil and gas drilling operations.)
That means the drillers can externalize the environmental costs of these hazardous fluids and other materials needed to fracture the shale and thereby free the natural gas. They can foist those costs on nearby residents in the form of ruined water supplies, toxic air pollution, poisoned land, and health problems for humans and animals.
The environmental and health horrors associated with shale gas drilling are now in the news on a daily basis. But I have begun to think about the issue in another way. All of these externalized costs have an energy cost. And, the toxic fracturing fluid—millions of gallons of which are pumped into each and every shale gas well—will stretch out the time frame during which such costs are borne.
No one knows what will happen to the half of that fluid which never returns to the surface during operations. There is concern that it could migrate to drinking water aquifers and destroy the drinking water not just for the few who happen to live near a drilling site, but for people living in huge swaths of the United States by polluting water sources for large cities such as New York.
Now, of course, that water could be cleaned up if it becomes toxic. Already shale gas drillers are having to provide filtering systems for people whose well water has become contaminated. In some cases, even this isn’t enough, and water must now be trucked in to families whose water is no longer fit to drink even with filtering.
In order to judge whether shale gas will provide any net energy to society, we must first decide where to set its system boundaries. It is hard to know exactly where to stop spatially: Should we, for example, include the energy needs of a family dependent on a worker at a subcontractor that provides software services to the driller? But, it is even harder to know what time frame to use.
One thing is certain. The legacy energy costs of doing shale gas drilling will not disappear anytime soon. The country and its people could be paying the externalized costs of such drilling decades after it ceases to provide any material benefit to society.
If New York city is forced to expend considerable energy to purify its water to clean out toxic chemicals leaching from wells in its watershed 50 years from now, how shall we then judge the presumed bounty of energy that shale gas supposedly represents?
The same kinds of questions have been raised about nuclear energy. If one takes into account the entire energy cost over time of building, operating, decommissioning, and then protecting decommissioned plants and their wastes—wastes that will remain dangerous for conceivably tens of thousands of years—it is possible to understand why some people claim that nuclear energy provides no net energy to society. Rather, it burdens future generations with huge legacy energy costs. We who are alive today get to externalize the energy costs of nuclear power by foisting them on future generations. This is probably the only way that one can consider nuclear power—as it is currently configured—an energy source rather than an energy sink.
I believe we may ultimately find that shale gas is nothing but an energy sink. It will provide net energy for a while to those who are living now while burdening future generations with huge cleanup costs that, in terms of energy, may equal or exceed the energy gain we are currently receiving from this supposedly “clean” energy source.
On the 20th of April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew out in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven men instantly, then destroying 600 miles of coastline. On 9 September 2010, a natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California, burning eight to death, one of several recent pipeline explosions in the USA. In 1992, in Chicago, a gas pipe leaked and 18 houses exploded, incinerating three people.
What do these deaths have to do with plans for “fracking” for natural gas in Ireland?
Everything. It was my job to investigate these three explosions, the Deepwater Horizon and California explosions as a reporter for the UK Channel 4’s Dispatches, the earliest as a US government investigator. In all three cases, the deaths were preceded by the same reassurances about the safety of drilling and piping that I read now in the debate about fracking in Ireland.
First, the Deepwater Horizon. Eleven men died when the ‘mud’ – drilling cement meant to cap the wellhead – failed and methane gas blew out the top of the pipes and exploded. The Shannon Basin is not the Gulf of Mexico, but your safety will be just as dependent on Halliburton’s mud.
Can we trust Halliburton’s reassurances? The owners of the Deepwater Horizon have told a US court that they’ve discovered that Halliburton hid critical information that the well cement could fail. Halliburton denies the cover-up. But cover-up or not, the cement failed as it has several times recently in the US in wells drilled for fracking. In all cases, including the contamination of water supplies in Pennsylvania (where some residents could set their tap water alight with a match), drilling was preceded by mollifying studies indicating that all was safe. But they failed to see all the looming dangers.
In Ireland, you haven’t even done the studies. The University of Aberdeen study for the Irish Environmental Protection Agency has been played as some kind of endorsement for charging ahead with fracking in Ireland – but this is not the case if you actually read the study. The University study is, in fact, a long series of warnings that proposed drilling methods, the local geology and the potential impacts on water quality all require studies not even begun. It also points to the necessity of creating a regulatory system not now in place which can cope with watching thousands of explosive, toxic well-sites.
The Shannon river basin is a truly eyebrow-raising place to blindly drill thousands of wells. It’s located in proximity to one of Irelands few major aquifers (your drinking water supply) and the drilling will be relatively shallow. Where I live in the State of New York, the government, though a major booster of fracking, has banned the fracking of shallow shale deposits and banned the process from all locations near our aquifers. The US experience is not comforting.
Horizontal fracking (as proposed for Irish deposits) requires explosive charges to be fired along miles of pipe underground (and under houses and water supplies) followed by the pumping of fluids at high pressure through these pipes. The result has been man-made earthquakes. Buildings don’t fall down, but cracks bring hydrocarbon poisons into the aquifers. In the vast uninhabited wastes of the American Dakotas, we simply abandon water systems. Where in Ireland can you do that?
And then there are the pipelines. The fracked gas doesn’t get to market by carrier pigeon. Ireland has had virtually no discussion of the difficulties, danger and cost of running hundreds, and ultimately, thousands of miles of gathering pipes. I’ve been investigating the horror of pipeline explosions for three decades now and the problem is exponentially worsened by the new web of lines created by fracking. Highly explosive transport systems require an elaborate system of on-site government regulation which Ireland does not have and cannot now afford. And it’s simply too easy for the PIGs to cheat.
A PIG is a Pipeline Inspection Gauge, a robot that looks like a mechanical porker with wire whiskers that crawls through pipes hunting for corrosion, cracks, leaks and trouble. When the PIG ’squeals’, the pipes must be dug up and replaced. And that’s frightfully expensive.
It especially frightens the executives who have to pay for pipe replacement. So, what I’ve found and reported is that the providers of software and its users are aware that the PIGs’ diagnostic computer code, which converts the squeals of the PIG into warnings, has flaws which understate dangers. And the results have been horribly predictable: Despite the reassuring noises from the PIGs, pipes have leaked, polluted, exploded and killed.
Is there a safe way to frack? Probably: but not profitably; and certainly not within the geology of a little emerald isle. I am weary of appearing at scenes of death and destruction when cement fails, pipes crack and tremors spew poisons only to hear a gas or oil company executive’s PR flack issue an apology. I doubt those apologies will sound better in Gaelic.
Re-prints permitted with credit to the author.
Greg Palast is the author of Vultures’ Picnic (Penguin 2011), which centers on his investigation of BP, bribery and corruption in the oil industry. Palast, whose reports are seen on BBC-TV and Britain’s Channel 4.
Greg Palast in Dublin. Photo: William Hederman
Ireland is totally unsuited to the process of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ to extract natural gas, according to the best-selling author of a book on the global oil and gas industry. Greg Palast, a renowned investigative journalist, said there was “no chance whatsoever” that US regulators would allow the controversial process in the kind of terrain for which it is proposed in Ireland.
“You may think American regulators are bad – and they are, they’re in the pockets of the oil industry – but even the worst of them would not allow fracking in areas like those proposed for Ireland,” he told Liberty. “If you took the counties where fracking is proposed in Ireland and stuck them down in the middle of the USA, there is no chance whatsoever that they would allow any drilling there.”
Fracking involves pumping tens of thousands of gallons of water, mixed with chemicals, at high pressure into shale rock in order to fracture the rock and release natural gas. The process has been banned in France and Bulgaria, as well as several states within the US, Germany, Canada and Australia.
Three companies have been given preliminary authorisations to explore for gas in parts of 12 Irish counties, including Cavan, Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo, Fermanagh and Clare. One of the companies, the Australia-based Tamboran Resources, has said that fracking is the only way to extract this gas.
These areas have seen a growing campaign of opposition to fracking, due to major health and environmental risks, including possible contamination of water supplies. Five Irish local authorities have voted to ban fracking.
Palast was invited to Ireland by the No Fracking Ireland campaign and spoke to packed audiences in Enniskillen, Carrick-On-Shannon and Dublin. He says that when he visited some of the areas of Leitrim and Fermanagh for which fracking is proposed, he was shocked. “In the areas of the US where most fracking takes place, you can drive for days without seeing anyone. There are no people, there’s no water.”
“In areas such as Maryland and Pennsylvania, that are geologically and agriculturally like Ireland, they’ve pretty much stopped it,” he says. “In America you aren’t allowed to drill through aquifers [deposits of groundwater] to get to gas. In Ireland you’d have to drill through aquifers, because the whole country is on top of aquifers.”
In May, a preliminary study into fracking in Ireland by the University of Aberdeen for Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified potential risks to groundwater purity and tremors or earthquakes. Minister for Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, has said no fracking will take place here before a much more in-depth study is carried out.
Palast says the Aberdeen University study was misreported by the Irish media. “What the Aberdeen study said is that nobody has studied this: nobody knows about the geology, the water tables, nobody knows anything. You’re digging a hole and you’re wishing.”
Tamboran has said it will not use any chemicals during fracking in Ireland. However, campaigners argue the company has yet to show that it will be possible to frack without chemicals. Furthermore, as Palast warns: “Even if you don’t use chemicals, nature does. There are poisons that nature has locked away for many thousands of years and we’re unlocking it.”
Palast, who has been investigating pipeline explosions for more than 20 years, initially as a US government investigator, warns against “destroying Ireland’s tourism potential for a few quick bucks”.
His latest book, Vultures’ Picnic, explores how environmental disasters such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 are caused by corporate corruption and failed legislation. Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, he discovered that an identical blow-out had occurred two years earlier on another BP rig in the Caspian Sea but was covered up by the company.
“If you trust oil companies, talk to the people of Louisiana about trusting BP,” he says.
This article was orginally published in the July 2012 issue of Liberty, the newspaper of the trade union SIPTU.
Like Gov. Corbett likes to say: “It’s all about the jobs.”
Lately it was green jobs.
No, we’re not talking solar or wind companies. Corbett is looking for partnerships with Ireland.
Philly Deals columnist Joe DiStefano who ran into the gov this morning at Philadelphia’s Union League Club where Corbett met with Ireland’s prime minister Taoiseach Enda Kenny to discuss economic development and ways to foster Pennsylvania-Ireland business relations.
The two leaders laid the groundwork for an Irish trade mission to Pennsylvania in the summer of 2013, Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley told Philly Deals.
And they talked natural gas.
Kenny and Corbett discussed the fact both Ireland and Pennsylvania have shale gas resources.
Kenny said the Republic of Ireland is “keen to emulate Pennsylvania’s success in developing these resources,” said Harley.
And they shared their common Irish roots.
The families of both Kenny and Corbett came from County Galway.
Corbett also attended Thursday night’s meeting of the Brehon Law Society at the Union League, where he met with His Excellency Michael Collins, the Irish Ambassador to the United States, along with Noel Kilkenny, the Consul General.