T. Boone Pickens

What the Frack? The battle heats up

The battle over natural gas is heating up. This weekend I received emails from opposite camps concerning the natural gas issue. I received a notice from T. Boone
Pickens to his army asking me to urge my representatives in Congress to support
the Natural Gas Act (NAT GAS Act—HR 1380) and the next day I received a notice from a political action committee urging me to ask my representatives to
sponsor the FRAC (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act.

I originally joined Pickens Army because he was preaching less dependence on foreign oil. His arguments were very convincing because OPEC is holding us hostage with the exorbitant price of oil. He was urging use of domestic resources including solar energy
and windmills. He proposed massive windmill farms which sounded good to me. Both
windmills and solar energy are a way of harvesting free natural resources to
meet our energy needs. I guess that solution was too simple and since it is a
free resource few people will make big money. Now his emphasis is on natural
gas. What else could I expect coming from an oil man? Below is his message:


I’ll keep this short, because it’s pretty obvious what the problem is and
there’s a very obvious solution.

According to the Federal Reserve Economic Database, the U.S. imported 62% of its oil – or 362 million barrels – last month alone. That’s $41.7 billion that was sent to
foreign countries for oil.

Our oil import numbers continue to be astronomical and our country continues to suffer as a result. In a time of economic turmoil, our crippling dependence on OPEC oil represents the height of fiscal irresponsibility – particularly when we have the ability to
use our own vast domestic natural gas resources.

We simply cannot afford to let this opportunity go to waste.

– Boone

The message also included a link to my representatives which
I have deleted since I no longer support his efforts to promote natural gas.

The next day I received a notice seeking my support for the
FRAC Act. As I have previously written, there are many dangers involved with
the controversial method of reaping natural gas from shale formations known as
hydraulic fracturing of fracking. Below is their information:

Dear Friend,

As an Ohioan, you’ve probably been hearing a lot lately about fracking.

High Pressure Hydraulic Fracturing (or fracking) is a method of drilling for natural gas by pumping a mixture of water and chemicals, including known toxics and carcinogens, deep underground, and it’s already responsible for more than 1000 documented cases of poisoning water in states across the country.1

Fracking wells are spreading at an alarming rate. But even more alarming, thanks to the work of Dick Cheney and his infamous energy policy, frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals used in their fluid to the EPA, and the process is
totally exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The FRAC Act, a bill that has been in the Senate since 2009, would correct both these problems. As public concern over fracking has grown, the bill has gained some momentum, but we still need more Senators actively working to pass it. Will you urge Sens. Brown and Portman to support the bill?

While state leaders in Ohio welcome new gas drilling, fracking in other states is polluting Ohio’s water as well. Ohio has been storing, treating and dumping waste water from fracking projects in other states into Ohio rivers. 2

Fracking is currently underway in 36 states. While some state regulations do exist, they vary widely. But water contamination isn’t constrained by state boundaries, and we need a strong baseline national standard to make sure fracking chemicals are publicly disclosed everywhere fracking is taking place, and that this practice isn’t putting our nation’s drinking water at risk.

Yet somehow, the EPA has been handcuffed from regulating fracking since 2005, in what has become known as “the Halliburton loophole.” Halliburton, where Dick Cheney was CEO before becoming Vice President, patented fracking in the 1940’s and remains the third largest producer of fracking fluids. And in trademark Bush administration style, Halliburton staff were actively involved in a 2004 EPA report on fracking safety.

The “Halliburton loophole” remains a dangerous legacy of the Bush Administration and if we’re going to protect our nation’s water, we need to close it.

If you’re not familiar with the dangers of fracking, here’s a little more background: Fracking a single gas well uses as much as millions of gallons of water, and hundreds of tons of chemicals. While the exact contents of the fluid remains largely undisclosed, scientific examination reveals that it can contain diesel fuel, which includes benzene, as well as methanol, formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid and many others.3

The fluid is injected thousands of feet underground at extremely high pressure, literally cracking the earth to release trapped gas. Unfortunately, it must pass through our water table, where the fluids, along with natural gas, can leak through well casings into our drinking water.

If you’ve ever seen the picture of the man lighting his tap water on fire from the recent documentary Gasland, that was
because of nearby fracking.4

Fracking also poses serious risks to our rivers and streams from insufficiently treated, and often radioactive waste water, and from above ground spills of fracking fluid. An important investigative series by the New York Times recently concluded that “the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.”5

Yet, the oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject known hazardous materials — unchecked — directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies.

That’s got to change, and the FRAC Act is an important step in providing a strong national standard to protect our nation’s water from the dangers of fracking.

Tell Sens. Brown and Portman: Co-sponsor the FRAC Act to protect our water from dangerous fracking. Click here to automatically sign the petition.

Thanks for fighting the unchecked oil and gas influence threatening our water.

Elijah Zarlin,
Campaign Manager

Action from Working Assets

1. Fracking,” Food and Water Watch.
2. Ohio and Fracking,” EarthJustice.
3. Hydraulic Fracturing 101,” EARTHWORKS.
4. Burning Tap Water and More: GASLAND Exposes the Natural Gas Industry,” Treehugger, June 25, 2010.
5. Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers,” New York Times, February 26, 2011


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As in most controversial issues you will find “experts”
representing both sides of the issue. Many scientists, engineers, and PhDs will
say hydraulic fracturing is perfectly safe. But if it is so safe why did the
industry take steps to exempt the process from the EPA regulations and pass
legislation to keep secret the chemicals used?  In addition, accidents do happen and we all
remember the disastrous mess of the Gulf oil spill last year. We don’t want the
same thing to happen in our own backyard.

Our country, and in particular our own state of Ohio, are on
the precipice of a dangerous and slippery slope. The discovery of huge gas
deposits beneath the previously unapproachable shale could be the answer to our
financial and oil crisis—if it is harvested in a safe manner. This could mean
no more dependence on foreign oil and could bring in large revenues for
personal and state bank accounts.

Everyone could profit from this discovery but it must be
done in a way that won’t destroy our clean air and water. Currently, the
fracking process is just too dangerous with too many unknowns—including what
chemicals are used and their affect on the environment—to blindly fall for this
gold rush. What benefits can we possibly reap if we are dead or too sick to
enjoy them? Please contact your state representative to halt the explosive
growth of the natural gas industry in our state until safer methods are set in
place. Hurry before it is too late.


NOTE:   because this subject is so long and complex I
will be discussing it in several parts. If you haven’t heard about the debates
over natural gas and the controversial method of harvesting it called Hydraulic
Fracturing (HF) or “fracking,” you will hear a lot about it very soon. A bill to open state parks to drilling is expected to come up for a vote in the Ohio House tomorrow, Wednesday, May 25.

I have been following this subject for several months and have been extensively collecting newspaper clippings and research during that time. I had planned to begin my series this week but did not anticipate the bill would come to a vote so soon. This merely highlights the urgency of this topic.

Since this is an ongoing political “hot potato,” I will add follow-ups and links as the
occasion dictates.



PART I   The Pickens Plan

The commercials are warm and friendly with good-looking,
soft-spoken actors expounding on the virtues of clean, natural gas. They are
usually accompanied by a diagram showing how they go deep beneath the surface
to harvest this honey in the rock called gas.

It sounds like the answer to all our energy problems—no more
dependence on foreign oil, cars run cleaner and more efficiently, no more air
pollution from coal-burning power plants. According to the commercials, all we
have to do is flip a switch and the gas hidden deep underground runs up a
pipeline and into our cars and homes. We will have a cleaner and brighter

T. Boone Pickens, a noted oil billionaire, has been gathering an army to gain support to lobby Congress for his movement of no more dependence on foreign oil.  I even signed
an on-line petition and joined Pickens Army several years ago. After years of
tireless promotions, the Pickens team finally achieved a part of their goal by
having a natural gas bill introduced in the U.S. House last month.

The bill, called the NAT GAS Act (H.R. 1380) is short for “New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions’ (NAT GAS) Act, was
introduced by two Democrats and two Republicans showing  bi-partisan support.

According to Pickens:

– America consumes 20 million barrels of oil per day. We produce 7 million barrels
domestically and import the other 13 million barrels. Of the 13 million barrels
of imported oil, 5 million come from OPEC – “nations that hate us,” says

– The true cost of Middle Eastern oil is over $300 a barrel if you account for U.S.
military presence in the Middle East.

Pickens claims the U.S. has natural gas reserves equivalent to three times that of
Saudi Arabia’s known 260 billion-barrel oil reserve when you use a Barrel of
Oil Equivalent (BOE) comparison.

– Using BOE, natural gas, at its current price, would be about $1.50 per gallon cheaper than diesel fuel. (Note—this estimate was made several years ago and with today’s wild fluctuations in prices the costs could be even more significant today.)

According to Pickens’ numbers our imported OPEC oil is costing America $2 billion a day and would cost $6 billion a day if unsubsidized by the U.S. military presence in
the Middle East. Also, some percentage of the money we send to Saudi Arabia
makes its way to our enemies, such as the Taliban.

When the bill was introduced, Congressman John Larson (D-CT) and Chair of the Democratic House Caucus, said we have enough domestic natural gas to meet our needs “for the next 100 years.” He added, “If we start making cars and trucks that run on
natural gas, there’s the potential to create over a half a million American

All of these facts appear to be true, frightening, and convincing. We certainly need to
break away from OPEC and not be held hostage by high gas prices. We are an
energy hungry nation with an ever-increasing appetite. As Pickens says in his
plan, “We must break America’s addiction to foreign oil.”




Part II  What the Frack is Hydraulic Fracturing (HF or Fracking)

I must say I can’t find anything I disagree with and would gladly campaign for this platform if it weren’t for one small over-looked fact. Exactly how do we harvest this
hidden treasure and at what cost?

I first became aware of the answer to that question when I watched the documentary Gasland about a year ago. It is a film by Josh Fox about the technology known as “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing (also known as HF). This is a relatively new technology, developed by Halliburton, which enables the vast reservoir of shale gas, which lies underneath a large portion of the eastern states reaching from Texas to Maine,
to be accessed. The fracking process allows us to unlock a “Saudia Arabia of
natural gas” that lies just beneath our feet.

The film, nominated for an Academy Award and produced by Robert Redford, takes us on a journey across the nation where Josh Fox travels to interview people who are
now living and dying from the effects of fracking. His journey begins in
Pennsylvania when he receives a letter from a gas company offering him a large
amount of money to purchase mineral rights for the land he inherited from his
parents. The money is enough to make him a very rich man; but, because his
parents were hippies and bought the rural land to be able to live with nature,
he decides to investigate what this is all about.

He soon enters a nightmare of bubbling streams, dying animals and livestock, sickened
families, exploding water faucets, and much more. Things even Hollywood
couldn’t makeup.


            Need for Hydraulic Fracturing (HF) or Fracking

It has long been know that vast amounts of natural gas lie deep beneath much of the United States but it has been inaccessible with the traditional vertical drilling method.
However, a new process called horizontal drilling now enables the gas companies
to tap this energy.

The controversy arises when a process called Hydraulic Fracturing (known as HF of
fracking) is used to open the fissures deep underground. Once a well is
drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected under
high pressure into the well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open
the fissures that then release the natural gas. The gas comes up the well along
with the wastewater and must be separated at the surface. Only 30-50% of the
water is typically recovered from a well. The wastewater is highly toxic.

Environmental concerns

The average well is up to 8000 ft. deep and one to eight million gallons of water are used for each fracking process. A well may be fracked up to 18 times. For each frack, 80 to 300 tons of chemicals may be used and currently the natural gas industry does not have to disclose which chemicals are used. However, scientists have identified volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

Once the well is fracked the fluids used then come back up the well which is called flow
back. About 15 percent of the water shot down the well comes back up, tainted
with salt, minerals, and hazardous metals that can include barium, cadmium and
chromium. After the initial surge of “flow back” water, wells continue to produce brine that contains even higher concentrations of salt, metals and minerals. The wastewater–or brine–contains high amounts of salt but it is certainly not the type of brine you want to soak you next turkey in. This brine mixture is either trucked to wastewater treatment plants or injected into underground wells.

The wastewater then goes to evaporators and condensate tanks where the VOCs are
evaporated and steamed off. The wastewater is then trucked to water treatment
facilities. When the VOCs are evaporated and come into contact with diesel
exhaust from trucks and generators at the well site, ground level ozone is
produced which can travel up to 250 miles.

In Pennsylvania the wells have produced so much brine that state officials say it
fouled the Monongahela and Susquehanna Rivers. In April Pennsylvania urged
energy companies to stop taking brine to 15 sewage plants because compounds
called bromides posed a pollution risk to drinking water supplies.

According the documentary, Gasland, hydraulic fracturing has created many environmental horrors. It shows streams bubbling with gas and igniting when touched with a match. Drinking water coming from a kitchen faucet also ignites when a match is held next to it. The banks of streams are littered with various animal carcasses. Livestock and pets are dying, losing their fur, and unable to eat. Families report various health
problems, headaches, and strange smells. The water turns brown and fresh water
must be trucked in for humans and animals.

Ohio is proposing to open up state parks to drilling which has angered many
environmentalists. Some have even hijacked ODNR’s Facebook page to campaign
against the drilling claiming it will not only harm the streams and wildlife
but the noise and traffic from the operations will disrupt the peace and quiet
of nature.

Another concern is the possible presence of pipelines across the state. In November
Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. filed for a 240 mile pipeline from the Ohio
River in Monroe County to the Michigan line west of Toledo. According to the
application the pipeline would cost $550 million and create 2,500 construction
jobs and transport as much as 93,000 barrels of liquid natural gas a day. It
would also cross 334 streams and 11 high-quality wetlands and run near Toledo’s
Oak Openings preserve metro Park, home of 180 rare and endangered plants.

Trent Dougherty, attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, said the state often
does a poor job of enforcing rules that require companies to avoid or repair
environmental damage. The Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio
Environmental Protection Agency have sole authority to approve the pipeline
plan and route.