God made the heavens and the earth and it was good.
Humans are commanded to care for God’s creation.
Natural gas, hydraulic fracturing, fracking, foreign oil dependency, shale gas, Utica Shale, Marcellus Shale, energy independence—these are all words that have been in the news a lot lately.
Whether you know it or not these topics are also entering the presidential and senatorial campaigns. All of these terms relate to the relatively young natural gas industry in our country. An abundance of natural gas is hidden in the Utica and Marcellus Shale predominantly found in the eastern part of the United States, the Appalachian mountains, and in the eastern part of Ohio. How this industry develops will have a huge impact on our country, state, and local towns in many ways whether environmentally, financially, or politically. Many people with deep, deep pockets behind the scenes stand to gain a lot with the development of this industry and they are counting on the general population to remain ignorant about the topic.
Hydraulic Fracturing Panel Discussion Oct. 1—Franciscan University
Fortunately, if you live near the Steubenville, Ohio area you will have an opportunity to review the topic and ask questions of those involved in the industry. Students for a Fair Society will host a two-person panel on the costs and benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing, Monday, October 1 at 6 pm in the Tony and Nina Gentile Gallery of the J.C. Williams Center at the Franciscan University.
Panelists include Dr. Yuri Gorby; Howard A. Blitman, Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York; and Father Neil Pezzulo, of Glenmary Home Missioners in Cincinnati, Ohio. Panelists will touch on the industry’s benefits, both short and long term, to the economy – its costs, with a special focus on the poor and vulnerable – and to our health and the environment, helping the audience come to their own conclusions.
Students for a Fair Society is a group dedicated to upholding the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in its fullness. Concerning ourselves with matters of life, solidarity, and justice….
The event is free and open to the public.
My introduction to fracking
I first became aware of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is commonly called, through the documentary Gasland. The documentary paints a scary picture of an environmental disaster created by this new industry. It is filled with images of dead and dying animals, people with unexplained illnesses, and water faucets that spew fire when a flame is held next to the running water.
What happened to the EPA?
As a citizen I was outraged that these things should be allowed to happen. How could it happen when we have the EPA and the Clean Air and Water Act? As a journalist my instincts led me to research. I found that the Clean Air and Water Act does not apply to the fracking industry because of the infamous Bush/Cheney Act of 2005. Then Vice President Dick Cheney was successful in inserting an exclusion that exempted disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process claiming it disclosed proprietary formulas. Cheney is the former CEO of Halliburton which is one of the largest companies providing hydraulic fracturing services to gas companies.
What is in these chemicals? Why don’t the companies want to reveal them?
From citizen to crusader
The crusader in me then turned to my keyboard to inform my readers of what I see as impending doom—especially since our own state is blindly pushing ahead so it can reap its portion of the buried treasurer. Some estimates say Ohio alone has enough oil and gas below our surface to equal the size of Saudi Arabia. I wrote extensively about fracking (see the listings below) but I was haunted by the feeling that I still wasn’t finding the heart of the topic. Or, at least, I hadn’t yet defined it in my own heart.
Slowly I realized my repulsion for this new industry is because I view it as an attack on Mother Nature. It is not just because of the gallons of unknown chemicals that are forced underground but what these chemicals are doing to our environment. The oil companies claim their process is safe and the chemicals are encased in steel and concrete and there is no way it can seep into our water supply. Yes, and that is the same explanation that was given before the BP oil spill in the Gulf a few years ago.
Also, millions of gallons of water are needed to frack a well. To frack a well, chemicals mixed with sand and water are forced into the well under pressure which then breaks apart the layers of shale and releases the gas trapped between the layers. The mixture that comes to the surface, known as brine, contains unknown chemicals, sand and water and must be disposed of safely. Since it is a toxic soup it cannot be discarded into streams or flushed into the local wastewater system which goes through the sewage plant. Experts say the only safe way of discarding the brine is to put it in underground abandoned wells and mines. However, this is less than ideal because they are finding the underground storage is causing earthquakes.
Where does the water come from for the process? We are talking about massive amounts of water. The companies are taking it from the local lakes, rivers, and streams. Are we sacrificing one natural resource for another?
Gas and oil are the blood of our country
I realize we need gas and oil. Our country’s livelihood depends upon our transportation system. We need gas and oil to manufacture goods and then transport them to their destinations. Whether by land, water, or rail, all forms of transportation need gas and oil to run. People who depend upon these jobs need gas and oil to be able to go to and from their work. Yes, the blood of our country is gas and oil. I understand we need it for a healthy commerce.
However, something else we need is clean water and air. Without these two elements we are not able to sustain life. Wars have been fought over safe water supplies.
Native Americans revere the earth
In examining my feelings on this topic I first turned to the philosophy of the Native Americans who I knew respected and revered all of nature. I have often thought that if the white man had listened to and respected the beliefs of the first Americans and their worship of nature; we would not be in the environmental mess we are today.
Our first obligation is to protect our most precious resource—our Mother Earth who gives us life. The Native Americans viewed our earth as a living and breathing entity that is holy and is to be worshipped. A Native American chant says:
Where I sit is holy
Holy is the Ground
Forest , mountains, rivers
Listen to the Sound
Great Spirit Circling
All around me
Grant Redhawk of the Balckfoot Nation (AKA Two Feathers) said:
Air moves us
Fire transforms us
Water shapes us
Earth heals us
And the circle of the wheel goes round and round
And the circle of the wheel goes round…
As a child growing up in West Virginia one of my favorite Bible verses was Psalm 121– I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. To me this meant that since I was surrounded by the beautiful hills of West Virginia surely I was also surrounded by the Lord who made heaven and earth. It gave me a sense of peace knowing that my help came from my God who manifested himself in these majestic hills and surrounded me constantly.
The Catholic Church’s view of the environment and seven generation thinking
When I saw that the Hydraulic Fracturing Conference was being hosted by the Students for a Fair Society of the Franciscan University I did some research to know more about the organization. Keith Michael Estrada, who is coordinating the conference, was kind enough to send me more information about the Society, the Conference, and the official stand of the Catholic Church on the environment. He said that the Church’s official teachers, the Bishops, point to a strict care for all of creation, temperance and fairness when using the goods/gifts of the earth, and a constant keeping in heart and mind the future generations who will inherit the land.
I was struck by the similarity to the philosophy of the Native Americans who refer to “seven generation thinking.” In the Native American world, where life is viewed as interconnected, every decision has physical, economic, social, and spiritual consequences, and all these impacts must be carefully considered. This interconnectedness is what Native Americans refer to as “seven generation thinking,” says Ivan Makil, former president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and a partner in Generation Seven, a consulting firm that specializes in advising tribes on appropriate economic development considerations.
The environment is God’s gift to everyone….
Estrada also included the quote from Pope Benedict XVI… “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. . . Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other….” from Charity in Truth.
Estrada also included a quote from the late Pope John Paul II:
“Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumerism and which is closely connected to it. In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. . . . Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him. On the Hundredth Year
Are we poisoning Mother Earth
So I am finally able to more clearly define my concerns and reservations over the fracking industry. Without more information, guidelines, and regulations it appears we are poisoning our Mother Earth. We are endangering our own health and possibly the lives of future generations for the greed of more fuel for today. We are rushing into an unknown future and selling our souls and laying them at the altar of money and greed. We could possibly be giving up abundant clean water and fresh air for progress.
Creation reveals the nature of God
Who would think that a mountain Methodist girl from West Virginia could find clarity from the Native Americans and the Catholic Church? Who would think that these extremely diverse entities would have a common ground? The answer to the dilemma of nature vs. the need for natural resources is as close as a walk out our front door into God’s creations. Creation reveals the nature of God (Romans 1:20). Creation and all created things are inherently good because they are of the Lord. (1Corinthians 10:26)
Another source of inspiration and reassurance of God’s omnipotent powers speaks to me often and that is the old hymn This Is My Father’s World. I pray that we will be able to maintain the purity of God’s world.
This Is My Father’s World
1. This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.
2. This is my Father’s world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
he shines in all that’s fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass;
he speaks to me everywhere.
3. This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!
Drilling for natural gas may not be the gold mine everyone thinks it is. Some industry officials are warning this could be another dot com bubble or giant Ponzi scheme.
The Columbus Dispatch, in its editorial of June 27, calls for caution in proceeding with natural gas drilling in the state. Now I am calling for us to follow New Jersey’s lead in banning fracking. In an effort to preserve the state’s waterways and safe drinking water, New Jersey passed legislation yesterday, June 29, banning hydraulic fracturing or fracking used in horizontal drilling of natural gas. They chose the environment over bags of money. (See link at bottom of previous article)
Bravo for them!
In their editorial, Due diligence—Drilling regulators should make sure ‘fracking’ in Ohio is done safely, the Dispatch warns that the state should proceed with caution, making sure it understands the process and its risks well enough to protect the environment and the public’s enjoyment of the parks. They warn that the “gold-rush mentality” is troubling and this potential wealth does not come without risk. The editorial warns that we should proceed slowly and learn from the mistakes made by other states involved in harvesting shale gas. Water and air quality are key concerns as well as spills and blowouts at the surface causing ground contamination.
Water purity is a major concern in Pennsylvania where the state has banned the waste water from the fracking process used in drilling horizontal wells from entering their wastewater treatment plants due to major pollution from the known and unknown chemicals used in the process. The water treatment plants can’t handle the influx of chemicals and the water discharged from the plants is polluting the state’s rivers and streams. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced that it also will not allow the waste water to be treated in our water treatment plants leaving the waste from both Pennsylvania and Ohio to be disposed of in underground injection wells. This causes some experts to question whether our state has the capacity to handle all this. In an attempt to slow the influx of waste, the state raised the brine-disposal fee from 5 cents to 20 cents a barrel.
One bright spot is that last year the state did a major revamping of the mining laws giving regulators more authority to insist on safer well construction.
Included in the editorial is a call for regulators to require full disclosure of all chemicals used saying public safety and the environment are at stake. The editorial closes by saying:
Ohio has the benefit of learning from mistakes made in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, but officials still should exercise the caution necessary to avoid making new ones.
Many are eager to reap the financial benefits projected to come from natural gas drilling citing the $128 million Pennsylvania received and $178 million collected by Michigan. However, in a political blog on the Dispatch’s website titled Officials plan to go slow on oil, gas drilling on public lands, Laura Jones, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said, “This will be a very deliberate, very measured process. There will be nothing happening fast.” It is projected that drilling in state parks and public lands won’t begin for at least a year while procedures and approvals are being put in place.
One step will be the creation of a five member Oil and Gas Drilling Commission to oversee drilling on state-owned land and grant leases. This commission may sound good on paper but I predict it will be nothing more than a rubber stamp for state and oil company officials since it is composed of four gubernatorial appointees and only one Natural Resources official. The Ohio Environmental Council, among others, has expressed concern that the bill would give the commission, rather than state agencies that own the land, too much authority to grant drilling leases.
While the commission is being created and rules written, Natural Resources officials are busy researching titles on land parcels to determine whether there are restrictions. House Bill 133, sponsored by Rep. John Adams, R-Sidney, which established the Commission, is designed to allow the process to move as quickly as possible as the rules are promulgated according to Rep. Adams.
Although the drilling companies will eventually nominate the parcels for drilling it is expected the state will do the nominating for the first year.
Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, said drilling on public lands “remains unnecessary, unwanted and unsafe,” echoing concerns about how drilling could impact the natural beauty of parks and about the use of a hydraulic fracturing technique on deep shale that could harm groundwater supplies.
But, are we being too eager to capture the golden goose? Are we pursuing only fool’s gold? Some oil and gas company executives and experts are beginning to question the financial feasibility of pursuing the gas buried deep beneath shale deposits.
In an article titled Natural-gas industry: Companies over-hyping wells, some experts say Investors banking on controversial drilling, that appeared in the Dispatch Sunday, June 26, and reprinted from The New York Times, experts express grave doubts. Energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts are skeptical about lofty forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of the wells and the size of their reserves. Some are even comparing the frenzy to the dot com bust and fall of the housing bubble.
“Money is pouring in” from investors even though shale gas is “inherently unprofitable,” an analyst from PNC Wealth Management, an investment company, wrote to a contractor in a February email. “Reminds you of dot-coms.”
“The word in the world of independents is that the shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes and the economics just do not work,” an analyst from IHS Drilling Data, an energy-research company, wrote in an email on Aug. 28, 2009. Company data for more than 10,000 wells in three major shale-gas formations raise further questions about the industry’s prospects. There is undoubtedly a vast amount of gas in the formations. The question remains how affordably it can be extracted.
Industry officials are also expressing environmental concerns. Referring to the fracking process which can require more than a million gallons of water per well, they are saying that if shale gas wells fade faster than expected, energy companies will have to drill more wells or hydrofrack them more often, resulting in more toxic waste.
The information was provided in emails obtained through open-records requests or provided to The New York Times by industry consultants and analysts who say they think the public perception of shale gas does not match reality. Deborah Rogers, a member of the advisory committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, remembers saying, “I think we have a big problem” when she first studied well data from shale companies in October 2009 after attending a speech by the chief executive of Chesapeake.
Her research showed that the math wasn’t adding up and the wells were petering out faster than expected. “These wells are depleting so quickly that the operators are in an expensive game of ‘catch-up,'” Rogers wrote in an email on Nov. 17, 2009, to a petroleum geologist in Houston, who wrote back that he agreed.
When the boom began in 2008 oil and gas companies were offering Fort Worth residents as much as $27,500 per acre for signing leases. By late 2008 the recession began and natural gas prices plunged by nearly two-thirds, throwing the drilling companies’ business models into a tailspin. Some company engineers were projecting a well life span to be 20 to 30 years but some federal energy analysts were doubtful based on the wells’ performances.
Given the many hazards and uncertainties surrounding retrieval of natural gas, I once again plead for caution. The fact that many industry insiders and experts are questioning the financial feasibility should make us question the road we are on—it is not too late for a course correction. We do not want to rape, pillage, and plunder our state when there is so much to lose.
- New Jersey Senate Passes Fracking Ban (desmogblog.com)
To learn more about fracking click on the link below to see one of the funniest and most educational videos about fracking. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, well, I couldn’t explain fracking any better if I wrote a thousand pages. See My Water’s On Fire Tonight or The Fracking Song.