Monday, April 30, 2012

Natural Gas Boom: "Split Estate" Summary

This is the final part of the Natural Gas Boom series.  The first post described fracking and the actions taken in NC regarding it.  The second post discussed my own personal opinions on the matter.  This post summarizes the Aperture cinema movie "Split Estate" and the presentation that followed.  When a friend asked, "Will the film be biased," I didn't want to give a resounding yes.  So instead I said, 'I don't know, but I can tell you it is sponsored by Clean Water for North Carolina.'  This pretty much gave the answer since organizations typically have to be extremely biased and use strong wording to get through to a society that is largely apathetic.  I felt that my opinions on fracking expressed in the last post took both sides in to reasonably consideration.  Despite the tendency for organizations to come off sounding extremist we both, Clean Water for NC and myself, essentially came to similar centrist conclusions; that there is no need to rush to action when so much risk is involved. 

"Split Estate" Summary

A split estate situation occurs because land is treated differently than the subsurface resources.  When you purchase your property, your mortgage may or may not include the resources below the land.  D.R. Horton made national news when they sold property to individuals that excluded the mineral rights.  They then sold those to interested companies.  They returned the rights to the property owners as pressure built against them.  People that own both may set up a contract with companies to sell or lease the mineral rights.  

Trailer for "Split Estate"

Throughout the film are several instances of oil execs denying that their practices caused any harm and then you see all the harm that it actually did cause.  Rivers look carbonated with all the gas coming from under the ground.  In areas where the bubbles come up, holding a match close by resulted in a localized, small explosion.  Contaminated water supplies led to several diseases.  Some families simply resolved to not drink the water.  However, breathing VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) while taking showers is actually just as bad, if not worse, as drinking it.  It would be difficult to get treatment for the different symptoms because each company's fracking fluid is considered proprietary information, and thus people cannot know what chemical is actually poisoning them. 

Another frequent theme is that the companies would not offer to help without significant legal threat and would provide contracts heavily worded in their own favor.  A family that lived down wind of several of the drilling platforms had to move from their home.  Several people ended up having the platforms placed only a little more that 100 feet from their homes.

There were also several good gotcha moments when high level corporate execs were caught lying, denying, or (to avoid libel) were just ignorant of their products.  For instance, one would say all that is in our product is water, sand, and wood pulp.  That certainly sounds proprietary.  Then there is a long list that shows over 200 ingredients that constitute the fluid, many of which are known to have serious negative health impacts.

Post Movie Presentation Summary

The movie below comes straight from Clean Water for NC's website.  It does a great job of quickly summarizing their stance on the issue. 

Website Presentation by Clean Water for NC that Explains Their View of Fracking

The images below depict where fracking could take place.  Comparing the two images goes back to my last post about prioritizing when and where fracking should take place.  It does not seem like there should be a need to immediately start fracking in NC when there are large swaths of land that could be utilized first that would pose much less risk.
Locations in North Carolina where Drilling would Take Place.
Locations in the US Where Drilling is Taking Place or is Being Considered

Interviewing Katie Hicks of Clean Water for North Carolina

I attended the movie/presentation and was actually able to get some of my friends to attend.  I was shocked cause it seems few people ever want to get involved in anything.  I have some questions and I would like to include the answers in my next blog post.  My blog is The Techno Post.  If you have any comments you would like to include regarding my last posts feel free to include.  I'm interested to hear.  Really, feel free to add any comments, post related or not.  Thank you for taking time to answer my questions.

Hi, Justin! It was great to meet you.Thanks for your thorough list of questions and for sending us the link to your blog.  I'll look forward to following it!

I've included some brief responses in blue below. I hope it will be helpful. The attached power point presentation has a lot of good information, though I didn't have the time to present it on Thursday. You can find a lot of links on the subject on our Fracking Resources Page for further information, too! 

The Attached Power Point Presentation

Me: 1.  The response of my friends after the movie was that it was a little extreme.  Numbers are frequently used that either scare people or do not mean anything too them.  I find percentages help convey meaning better.  Do you have any percentages that could be used to indicate the scale of the problem?  For instance, % of wells that have caused environmental issues.  % of land area utilized by fracking companies that has been negatively impacted. % of water supplies contaminated.  A website with heat maps would also be a good way to show this sort of info if you know any good links.

Katie: The film, released in 2009, relies on personal resident stories, many of which are worst-case scenarios, for two reasons - documentarians favor this kind of storytelling, but also, as of 2009 there were no comprehensive studies of environmental and health impacts. In fact, there STILL isn't this kind of information...since the gas industry is exempt from many environmental laws data just hasn't been collected on these impacts through time. State reporting requirements vary widely. I would check out this article from ProPublica for more information, and there is definitely more peer-reviewed research out there now than there was in 2009 (check our website) but in summary I think you're hitting on one of the biggest problems with this industry - we just DON'T have enough information or data on how widespread the threat is yet.

Me: 2.  One of the conclusions in the movie was that companies can incorporate new clean technologies to minimize their impact and harm.  Do you have any comment on that?  Would you be more inclined to be for fracking in NC if you knew those measures were put in place?
Katie: Short answer: potentially, but CWFNC and our community partners have little to no expectation that those kinds of technologies will be perfected, tested, and proven without a doubt to be safe for communities on a short-term time scale. However, NC is considering legalizing fracking in the very short term, which is why we have been encouraging a very slow, cautious approach to removing our state's protections from fracking. See CWFNC's Board's statement on hydraulic fracturing. 
Me: 3.  A frequent comment is that it is worth the risk to answer our energy issues.  I know you touched on this topic in your presentation.  Please go over this and include any links for people interested in making their homes more efficient.  Are there any NC initiatives or incentives for this?
Katie: Yes! Please check out NC SAVE$ ENERGY, a campaign to create a statewide, independently administered energy efficiency program that would weatherize homes and other buildings. Specifically, take a look at the report at the top of this page which shows how other states have used similar programs successfully. 
Me: 4.  It was mentioned that energy costs would not necessarily be reduced because oil and natural gas resources frequently get exported to maximize profits.  I thought there was more of an issue exporting natural gas.  I don't want to say this made fracking for natural gas more appealing, but rather that it would better address the cost of energy in the US.  This topic is unclear to me.  Could you explain and/or offer links to help?
Katie: I'd start by reading this article from February. Of course, transporting natural gas in itself is a risky process! My understanding is that we're producing so much of it right now that this has led the administration to want to export a lot of it. 
Me: 5.  I have heard a variety of claims that try to say fracking is not the problem, it is the other processes involved that cause the harm.  One version of this is that it is not the cracks that form that contaminate water sources but rather equipment at the surface failing that cause the contamination.  Another version of this says that it is a problem with storing the fracking fluid that is at issue.  Too me, saying a part of the process of fracking is a problem is the same as saying fracking itself is a problem.  Do you have any information on where the issues actually are?  How frequent the different processes actually do fail?
Katie: I think when a lot of people use the term "fracking," they often are really speaking about the whole process: fracturing, horizontal drilling, injection, the equipment's definitely confusing, but I think you're right that various components of the overall process are more problematic than others. We've heard a lot about poor well installations and failed casings. There are a few slides on the specific failures in the attached powerpoint.
Me: 6.  The defense of the earthquakes that result is that they are so micro scale that no one even feels them.  Is there any evidence of this?  Have people reported feeling earthquakes that were likely caused by fracking?  Do you think, or do you know other professional organizations that think, there is potential for larger ones.
Katie: Here's an article about the 4.0-scale quake in Ohio, which was stronger than previous ones in Ohio (these were caused not by fracking but by injection of fracking waste for disposal).  There is currently some seismic testing going on in various states. As to whether quakes could be bigger, I can't speak to that, but you may be able to find some resources from geology experts. I personally don't think about earthquakes as one of the more serious threats currently, but it also depends what is nearby the fracking operations - for example, nuclear facilities or other facilities that could have huge impacts if a quake hit them. 
Me: 7.  In terms of producing energy efficiently and cleanly, natural gas wins out over coal.  Are there any estimations about how many coal plants would be displaced by introducing locally acquired natural gas? 

Katie: Here's an article on why natural gas won't really address climate change any better than other fossil fuel products. I am not aware of any such projections but the information may be out there, however, as it's currently done natural gas is not being used locally where it's drilled, but being transferred to other regions via pipelines. That's my own understanding, anyway. 
Me: 8.  I recently read that in India there is a project underway to mount solar panels over lakes and reservoirs to prevent evaporation.  Here is a link discussing what I described.  Would NC ever do anything like this to help with water shortages and energy supplies?
Katie: Wow, how interesting, I hadn't heard of that! I can't speak to what NC might do in the future, but new and creative ideas to address our water and energy problems are definitely going to be important.

That concludes the Natural Gas Boom series.  The different presentations shown here and on the links Katie provided list a great amount of information, but here are some of the highlights.  
  • DUKE University gets recognition for being the first major study to conclusively link the methane in drinking water wells to fracking operations.
  • NC Shale Gas Study
    • Conclusion stated, "can be done safely, with the right protections in place."
    • Notes lack of info on recoverable gas, water supply, air emissions, health effects, wastewater handling; only mentions NC's shallow shales, no details of similar shallow shale cases.
    • Given a best case scenario only 350 jobs would be created for around a 7 year period.  Most of the workers for these jobs would be trained out of state workers that move in temporarily.
    • Final report is due May 1.
  •  Clean Water for NC suggests 4 actions that can be taken
    1. Sign up for Clean Water for NC's "Frack Updates".
    2. Call or write your state representative and the Governor and ask them to go slow on fracking.
    3. Approach your city and county officials about passing a resolution against fracking.  (Contact for a sample resolution).
    4. Become a member of Clean Water for NC.  Your donation in any amount makes it possible for us to sustain this work.  Donation info can be found here.

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