Last week my wife and I attended a meeting regarding one energy company’s plans for natural gas drilling in our community near Silt, Colorado, on Colorado’s western slope. The small meeting room was packed, the tension high. The meeting had been announced in the paper on short notice, without regard to the previous requests of local community contacts for increased communication and appropriate notifications. Area residents wanted to know just what was up, and how new drilling operations would affect their property and their lives. They were ready to do battle to protect themselves from the onslaught.
The top executive and main spokesman fairly well diffused the situation by stating that their would be no new drilling activities north of the Colorado River in 2012. The public crowd seemed stunned, deflated, and perplexed. Had we not been told that drilling and fracking would occur in our area this year, and that it was imminent?
Most of the natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations in our area have taken place south of Highway I-70 and the Colorado River. The activities have been and continue to be intense. There have been consequences and environmental insults too numerous to mention here. Just recently it was announced that the Garfield County Commissioners have moved to complete a study exploring a link between natural gas development and methane in the shallow groundwater deposits. An earlier phase of the study led one geological consultant to conclude that methane levels were increasing in domestic water wells because of gas development. It was later found that methane and methane compounds turned up in all six groundwater monitoring wells.
So, as you can see, I for one am extremely glad that there will be no drilling near my house in 2012. For now, I, along with others, can breathe a sigh of relief. We can wait until 2013 or later for the industry to poison our water wells, foul our once glorious sweet mountain air, and run us off the road with heavy tanker trucks sloshing about with thousands of gallons of hazardous waste on board. Recently, a tanker truck overturned and spilled an estimated 500 gallons of produced water, which is found deep underground with oil and gas deposits and comes to the surface along will hydraulic fracturing fluids. The spill narrowly missed a contamination of the Colorado River. We should all feel good that a crisis was averted and the spill team was johnny on the spot, you see. The trout in the river are a bit nervous though.
No one really knows why they will not work on our side of the river this year. It could be because natural gas prices are way down and they will have to wait until they rise again. It could be that the previous exploratory wells have proved unworthy for production to be economically feasible. They are still studying that one, we are told. Or, it could be that they are simply too busy already with there ongoing operations south of the river, gleefully fracking away. They did mention briefly that there is ongoing litigation related to their exploratory drilling operations on the north side. One family feels that they were made sick. They had already been forced to flee. Could that have something to do with the ceasing of drilling here, pray tell?
I listened to the industry executive describe their ongoing and future plans. He was a true expert in the art of deflecting the discussion away from the heart of the matter. No doubt this was a skill which had helped him to get where he was on the corporate ladder. I studied his demeanor, his expressions, and body language. I watched him bite his lip and spit out his words, albeit quite professionally. His utter contempt for the general public was not concealable. It was obvious that he did not want to be there.
I sat quietly as his minions and underlings answered our questions, quite eager to please the boss. They were experts at deflection too. Their job was to answer it right, without saying too much or providing opportunity for alarm or additional questions. They were prepared and ready and they knew just what to say. They were happy to answer, without apology. All was right in their world. I looked at all of them and thought that there is no doubt that they have drunk the Kool-Aid. They are perfectly possessed, but by what is open for debate. For them it is a righteous endeavor and I do not believe they are capable of hearing anything we would like to say.
Before attending the meeting, I read a newspaper article that discussed the fact that the frequency and number of spills and releases attributed to the natural gas industry in our state had dropped significantly in 2011 compared to 2010. A specialist with the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission (COGCC) had praised the industry for it’s improving record. Their report stated that 54 spills and ongoing releases were documented in 2011, compared to 99 incidents in 2010. However, the COGCC conceded that their five field inspectors had a difficult time covering the large northwest quadrant of Colorado – and that spills and releases could occur without being reported. They also reported that total drilling activity for 2011 was considerably down.
Spills are handled differently in each case. Sometimes, clean dirt is poured on top of an area where a spill has taken place, and then “blended” until the contaminant level meets appropriate standards. In other words, they are diluted and left in the hopes that they degrade over time, as they migrate down to groundwater.
I don’t know about others, but somehow this does not provide me comfort nor speak well of the natural gas industry. Am I to celebrate the fact that “only” 54 spills were documented, and that many others are most probably unreported? Does anyone know exactly what was spilled and the details of all of their potential health effects? Am I to assume that my water well or the well of my neighbors will not be contaminated, because someone said it would be O.K.? I know that I am not the only one asking these questions. I hope that more and more people will ask them also.
During the meeting I asked about the newly passed law regarding the disclosure of the content of fracking fluids. One of the representatives was happy to answer. He assured me that it was a good law, and that they were happy to comply. They had in fact been already complying. Of course, they still did not have to reveal any formulas that could be designated as “proprietary”. Indeed.
He assured me that only about 1% of the fluid mixture contained anything to be concerned about. Really. So in other words, about 1% of the fracking fluids contained something to be concerned about. Huh?
The boss stepped in to purport the joys and harmlessness of fracking fluids. He said in a nutshell that the industry was already addressing the concerns of the public and was working to stay ahead of the curve. The composition of fracking fluids were becoming more “green”. He projected that within about six years the standard for fracking fluids would result in a mixture that would present very little for the public to worry about.
Again, – really? So, for at least six years I do have something to worry about. But not too much, because only 1% of the fracking fluids contain anything that might harm me. One percent equals one of a hundred. Might you be aware of potential harmful effects of some chemicals in concentrations of say, one in a million? Or how about, one in a billion. That’s a very small number for an effect that may produce a result that can be devastating to human health. Of course, there are some bad things that we do not have to tell you about. Well, I feel better. You can frack a lot of wells in six years. No wonder they are working as fast as they can.
After the general discussion, I questioned an engineer about the ins and outs of well casing design, which he was obviously very into and happy to discuss. He told me that their casings were double and triple lined with pipe and concrete. There was no way that the shallow ground water table could be affected, because there was no chance for a leak or cross contamination.
Really? I guess he had not read of the recent findings concerning the lax and inconsistent federal oversight of the drilling industry on public lands. Only six percent of violations resulted in monetary fines over 13 years, totaling less than $275,000. A total of 113 major violations cited inadequate well-casing or cementing. These procedures are a key defense against groundwater contamination. Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey stated that “This report indicates that confidence in the oversight of drilling on public lands should be limited, at best”.
Later, I pointed to the big wall map of our area and asked the boss about the possible locations of possible pipe lines on the north side of the river. He looked at me kind of funny, and it seemed like he did not want to answer. Finally, he waved his hand across the map a time or two. He then said something like “the exact location isn’t that important”. “Funny thing”, I said. I told him it was kind of important to me,as he had just swept his finger very close to or directly through my property. He turned and walked away.
So, folks, how to you tell when one of the local gas industry reps is probably lying. You guessed it, their lips are moving. They must lie. The truth does damage. From my point of view, one spill is one spill too many. One percent of anything bad is one percent too much. One improperly cemented well casing is one mistake past acceptable.
This meeting could have happened in any fire station or town hall across the united states. There might not be too much we can do to stop them. My advice is to start screaming and keep screaming loudly. Scream until someone gets the message. Keep out of our neighborhoods. You are not welcome here.
Take a moment to ask the good citizens of Pavillion, Wyoming what they might think of hydraulic fracturing. They are screaming right now.