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Shareholders Demand Some Fracking Answers

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The specter of BP's (NYSE: BP  ) Deepwater Horizon disaster last year, and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, hasn't been put to rest. This year, shareholders are tightening the screws on major oil and gas companies regarding the controversial and possibly harmful practice of hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as "fracking."

Fracking involves drilling into shale rock formations that may be rich with pockets of hard-to-access oil or gas, then blasting water and other materials into the hole to break up the bedrock and make the fossil fuels within easier to tap. Opponents of the practice charge that fracking can contaminate groundwater and soil with harmful chemicals or leaking pockets of explosive natural gas.

Now, a coordinated group of shareholders has filed a slew of resolutions at publicly traded companies that use fracking, demanding more disclosure on how these corporations plan to handle the risks associated with the practice. The Environmental Protection Agency is also assessing fracking-related risks, and New York State has halted its use.

Frack attack
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, one of the leaders of the anti-fracking effort, contends:

Oil and gas firms are being too vague about how they will manage the environmental challenges resulting from fracking. The risks associated with unconventional shale gas extraction have the potential to negatively impact shareholder value. I urge companies working in this field to share their risk mitigation and management strategies with investors and the public.

A slew of socially responsible investors have filed resolutions related to fracking at many major oil companies; the Investors Environmental Health Network helped coordinate the push. Domini Social Investments filed a shareholder resolution at Southwestern Energy (NYSE: SWN  ) . As You Sow targeted ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) and Ultra Petroleum (NYSE: UPL  ) . The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia took on Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , while Trillium Asset Management set its sights on Anadarko (NYSE: APC  ) .

Green ammo from the Gulf
Last year, the number of shareholder resolutions related to climate change surged by 40% from those filed in 2009. As 2010 unfolded, it wasn't too hard to predict that shareholder resolutions focused on environmental issues were destined to gain an even higher profile this year.

BP's recent troubles revealed just how unprepared that company was for a worst-case scenario, giving environmentally minded shareholders further ammunition to demand better risk management and planning. Last year, BP shareholders shot down activist investors fighting the controversial Sunrise oil sands development in Canada; they also defeated a proposal criticizing CEO Tony Hayward's sizeable compensation.

The fact that some BP shareholders had tried to draw attention to those issues created quite an ironic foreshadowing of future events; the Deepwater Horizon disaster struck just days after BP's annual meeting. Shareholders later noted the parallel risks of these risky technologies, and listen reasons to apply greater scrutiny. One argued: "As with oil sands, the technology for deepwater drilling has not caught up with the potential environmental impact. This disaster means socially responsible investors may well end up putting deepwater drilling in the same category as oil sands."

Tune in for resolutions about risk
All investors should pay attention to shareholder resolutions filed at the companies they own. Although some activist shareholders may have self-serving or political agendas, shareholder resolutions often point out very real risks.

Last year, environmental research concern Trucost contended that environmental damage could endanger more than half of all corporate profits, with $2.15 trillion in environmental costs coming from the world's top 3,000 companies every year.

Investors of all stripes should be aware that hidden risks could add up to very real expenses down the road. The coming proxy season should give investors serious risks to weigh. Stay tuned.

Check back at every Wednesday and Friday for Alyce Lomax's columns on corporate governance.

Chevron is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil and Ultra Petroleum. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (44) | Recommend This Article (38)

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  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 4:15 PM, TheDumbMoney wrote:

    Even though I own shares of XOM (most famous, recently at least, for buying XTO), we really need to address this as a nation, before we find out that we have all been saddled with enormous externalities by these companies.

    The specific point I'd like to make is that where the writer says they are blasting in "water and other materials," perhaps one reason she writes 'other materials' is that these companies refuse even to say what they are using. That is the elephant in the room here. What they use is treated as a trade secret. If it's such a secret, and each company's formula is so unique and powerful, isn't it interesting that dozens and dozens of companies are able find a way to frack? I do fear the companies just don't want to say what they are using, because it will instead of fracking out, we'll be freaking out when we find out what chemicals are going in there. This industry has been the wild-wild-west for the last decade. As far as I can tell there is limited regulation of things like how close to a water table companies can go, let alone what chemicals they can shoot in there with the water. A very reasonable first step is just requiring all companies to disclose what they are using. It would be a very interesting piece of muckraking reporting for someone to figure this out perhaps by tracking some of the suppliers.

    (Maybe I'm out of date on this, but when I looked at this eight or nine months ago, nobody seemed to have any clue what chemicals are going in with the water. Has that actually been addressed at all? Seems to me the first thing that needs to happen before environmental mitigation plans can be assessed is we have to know what's going into the ground.)

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 5:33 PM, voelkels wrote:

    Its been over ten years since I have worked as a petroleum engineer, however I doubt that the mixtures used as frac fluid or for gravel packing a well have changed much. Depending upon the depth of the formation to be fractured (rock composition, bottom hole temperature, etc., etc) the frac fluid consists of water, a salt of some kind, usually NaCl but maybe calcium or ammonium chloride depending upon the formation, a gelling agent such as gaur gum, xanthum gum or others, sand or ceramic/glass beads to prop open the fracture and something to cause the gelling agent to break. Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer makes a great breaker for the organic gums like gaur or xanthum gum.


    C.J.V. - ex-chemist & engineer now retired, me

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 5:34 PM, OKIEOIL wrote:

    Frac is short for fracturing. In simplest (Foolish :-))terms, it is done by pumping fluids downhole, into the reservoir rock at a pressure and rate higher than the ability of the rock to accept it. This causes the rock to break down or "fracture" or FRAC. This fracture creates a channel to the well bore from a far larger section of the reservior. This is critical in shale gas/oil wells as the rocks have prohibitively low porosity and permeability for the wells to produce without significant stimulation. This is why these rocks have not previously been producing. They were drilled through for decades without the ability to produce them. The practice has been around since the late 40's or early 50's and has been used extensively in every oil producing state in this country and the world. The reservior is separated from the ground water and the surface by a pipe "casing" with a cement sheath bonding the pipe to the rock from the reservior to well above it, frequently to the top of the hole or into another larger string of casing. Access to the reservior is through perforations in the pipe and cement sheath created by precision shaped charges. The chance of ground water contamination from a properly completed fracturing treatment is a fraction of 1% and normally includes multiple things going wrong at once. The biggest danger to the environment from a common fracturing treatment is during flow back if the liquids, are not captured for disposal. This is normal practice and in most places required by law. The value of the oil and gas from fractured reserviors is almost incalcuable and the risk negligible. Full disclosure. I am a third generation oilman and am currently employed by the manufacturing arm of an oilwell service company. I also have children and grandchildren.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 5:48 PM, OKIEOIL wrote:

    Chemicals used: Each service has some proprietary chemicals. They hesitate to share the formula's due to a history of competitors swiping them. They spend millions of dollars developing specialty chemicals that are used in miniscule quantities, by percentage, to achieve some pretty remarkable results. The use of Potassium Chloride KCl (you can buy this as a mineral supplement in any drug store), hydrochloric acid HCl (used in most swimming pools), Common table salt NaCl and guar an organic compound that can be produced in food grades. The guar is a viscosity agent that thickens the water and is pretty slick,hence the term "slick water" fracs. This is a fracture treatment that has no propant (normally common silica sand in specific grain size ranges) carried to prop open the fractures in the reservior. I believe that all the major service companies have now revealed most if not all of their chemicals and at least one has posted them on the internet. There is no conspiracy I have ever heard of to hide the chemicals just to keep the public from panicing. Follow the money and the political agendas. "Greens" are trying to use public ignorance to panic the public and advance their agendas, among them, to prevent the development of domestic oil and gas reserves. Fracturing is a safe practice that has been safely done all over the USA and the world for over 50 years.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 6:00 PM, TheDumbMoney wrote:

    Fair enough, it's not something I have delved into deeply. So far the chemicals listed seem exceedingly mild, and often in fact found in food. I fully understand the vast, vast potential benefit of using this technology, though I would like full disclosure of any potentially harmful chemicals (if it's something the company developed, they'd have a patent anyway, right?). I do detect in the fracking opposition a certain "green panic" that cheap plentiful natural gas for the next 100 years will short-circuit the prayed for green revolution. But I still think the gas industry has not fully justified itself on this. For example, to me, okieoil, "a fraction of 1%" is a HUGE chance of something bad happening, given the volumes, you don't think?

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 7:11 PM, pfvll wrote:

    1. The shale layers which are fractured are thousands of feet below the water tables accessed by drinking water wells, under layers of impermeable rock which prevent the gas rising up to the water table.

    2. The composition of the fluids used has to be filed with and approved by a Government Environmental authority (I can't remember which one - look it up on the net) and the files are open to examination. No secrets here. The chemicals are harmless.

    3. The treatment of fluid returned up the well is also legislated so that it has to be stored out of contact wth ground waters and it has to be filtered and cleaned up to surface water standard before being released back to the environment.

    4. The procedures for drilling the well and fracturing the shale are also legislated and every step made by the driller has to cleared with the relevant environmental authority and is subject to inspection at any time.

    I can see why people may get hot under the collar about ensuring that all these legislated environmental procedures are adhered to and policed. So they should be.

    But to get everyone worked up about a big and necessary industry when it is already well researched and regulated to within an inch of its life is wasting everyones' time and the taxpayers' money. If people are so concerned, you would think they would do a minimum of research before they opened their big mouth.

    Of course, the real reason for all the fuss is that it is encouraged by the lawyers who will make shedloads out of lawsuits, and 'scientific' consultant organisations who make money out of doing 'research' for people who don't understand the science and engineering and can be shaken down for a hefty fee.

    And, to stir up the foul mix, the media, who love a witch hunt.

    Makes you sick.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 10:38 PM, Gizmo94 wrote:

    Check out Ecosphere Technologies. They have products specifically designed for use in the frac process that do not use the chemicals. Their products also allow the oil and gas companies to recycle 100% of the process water. Pretty interesting.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 11:04 PM, modeltim wrote:

    Fracking is horrible, I can't believe this milquetoast article and the clueless posting which fails to mention anything regarding the potential catastrophic effects of it.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2011, at 11:29 PM, Frackadelic wrote:

    Fluid composition has been disclosed by numerous companies. By making public what they are using, they have effectively cut the opposition off at the knees. Things are suddenly very quiet here in the gas fields....

    EQT Production's fluids are shown here (by specific well.)

    Range Resources here

    Although this is the new cause celebre for many, my prediction is that this will become a non issue by the end of 2011. New York will also allow drilling to proceed. Science, reality, jobs, tax revenue and economic benefits beat propoganda everytime. If the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia were in Pittsburgh, they would be on the gravy train too.

    Also, the next big news will be exploitation of the Utica shale which could be even better than the Marcellus. Rumor has it that it will not require hydraulic fracturing which should make everyone happy.

    My favorite Marcellus play is Endeavour Energy (END) which is also active in the North Sea. Yes, I work in the natural gas energy and am a life long of resident of Western Pennsylvania.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2011, at 12:30 AM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    I think they should ban the use of dihydrogen monoxide in this deadly frack'n process, lol.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2011, at 9:23 AM, FischerFool wrote:

    I guess my problem is understanding why companies claim the chemicals are "proprietary". A company that acquires the specific formula of another company gains no advantage because it can't drill in the same lease. In fact, it would be beneficial to the nation if the most effective combination(s) for different formations were used by every producer: the maximum amount of gas and oil would be produced, reducing our dependence on foreign sources and improving our balance of trade.

    The chemicals include benzene ring compounds which are known carcinogens. Casing failures and local ground water contamination occur far more frequently than the industry would have you believe. There is a reason that workers with these chemicals are required to wear extensive protective clothing, and why some of those who haven't have suffered acute renal failure and respiratory diseases upon exposure.

    I live in western Colorado, where multiple incidents of private water well contamination have occurred, and where there have been industry payouts to surface owners for well contamination and cancers perhaps/probably related to the chemicals.

    More worrisome are the long term effects.......bladder cancer, for example takes decades to appear after exposure to benzene ring compounds. The industry line is "No studies have shown" a risk in decades of drilling multiple regions. That begs the question why no studies have been done, and why fracking fluids were exempted from the Clean Water Act in 2004, during the Bush/Cheney administration.

    There is airborne release of dangerous chemicals from the process, especially from the condensate tanks, but the 6 monitors here in Garfield County are placed, for example, not near the sources of the contamination. In fact, one is at the top of one of the higher peaks in the area, despite the fact that the airborne contaminants are heavier than air.

    Longitudinal studies have not been done, but are necessary to determine the true risks of the practice. Think in terms of pollution of the level of the Love Canal, and the Cuyahoga River. It seems to me responsible drillers would fund such studies by independent, academic researchers. If not they, then the federal government.

    Water engineers will tell you that simplistic and exact predictions of underground contamination of aquifers are not possible. Once the safe ground water is contaminated by these poisons, it is lost to human use for generations, if not forever And here in the water challenged West, loss of current or future clean water sources will create enormous damage.

    Because I value human health more than short term corporate profits, I would place a moratorium on fracking, or require the use of non-harmful combinations.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2011, at 1:58 PM, FarmGranny wrote:

    I am in Eastern OH on the PA line.with Marcellus at 3-5000’ and about 7000’ to the Utica. We are hounded by the middlemen called Landsmen who write the contracts for drilling and normally sell the contract at a profit several times. I have not signed and most about me have.

    Fracturing Frightens me. I have spent hours/years studying and talking to those who are supposed to know as well as those who “think they know”. I want a balanced view. It’s very hard to get since opinion does not count.

    This is what I know and what I want you to know as intelligent open minded people…..

    1. Government has a responsibility to allow industry to provide us with the fuel that runs our homes and our economy.

    2. Land that YOU own is being used for extraction of natural gas. It’s called the Roan Plateau in CO. The Bush administration in 2008 leased all federally administered lands atop the plateau, 54,000 acres. Deer Hunting anyone?

    3. People do not like change, gas consumption will not be reduced unless forced. Federal Stats for consumption

    We make the Dept of Energy nervous!

    3 The “Haliburton Loophole” created a situation where our regulations are impotent and it needs to be reversed if we would, ideally, like to consider that the government is here to protect us (from ourselves!). Quote w Opinion, Fact-Read Sect 322 yourself and give your Congressperson your viewpoint.

    4 Congress has been ineffectual for a number of years on both sides of the fence. It is up to you to keep your person honest and doing what’s in the best interest of the majority. This can be addressed by keeping in touch, you do have power. or

    5 The effects that are bad about fracturing, when they occur, 1% as quoted above or not, are permanent. Do some “real Science” scouting ie. use it to get started. Take the time to look at the amateur documentary “Gasland” and then for balance look at and CBS coverage at

    6 A Majority of the areas that are prime for natural gas extraction are rural and lower income farming areas. The money is very meaningful, the result if a problem occurs is not covered by the ‘Superfund”. This is part of your breadbasket. What chemical is for breakfast?

    7 Oh, the Chemical list: and EPA regs that are not regulated when it’s a Gas/oil site.

    I don’t want others to make up my mind nor do you. Please do your homework. I am sitting on 40 acres, not large in this area. I have been offered $2600 per acre and 18% royalty. I am, in effect saying NO to a “gift for me and for you” of $104,000 plus royalties and a source of energy for you.. I could use that money. I hope I have not cheated you of your natural gas for the next 50 years (not 100 years as above). I could still lose my aquifer as could my neighbors. I could still have the air fouled and incessant noise around the clock with the compressors necessary to bring up the gas. This does effect you. Do your homework, have an educated opinion and share it. It is not just the cause celebre (above). I have done my homework though and am not willing to sacrifice even this little bit for greed or altruism. I can sleep at night for now, as for later … we shall see.

    If you want my pile of links for more homework just ask. ... Carol

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2011, at 2:43 PM, TheDumbMoney wrote:

    Frackadelic, I just clicked the first of your links. It does not say what the chemicals are!!! It says "scale inhibitor". Well, WHAT is the scale inhibitor? WHAT is the gelling agent? WHAT is the enzyme breaker? Huh?

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2011, at 3:02 PM, FarmGranny wrote:

    oh Frackadelic ,

    Thank you for the link to the list of chemicals. Checked the Paraffinic Solvent listed is a is a mixture of C10-C14 naphthenes iso- and n-paraffins also could be a benzine. They didn't really express what the formula was. It causes Dizziness. Drowsiness. Headache. Nausea. Unconsciousness..

    Benzene exposure has serious health effects. The American Petroleum Institute (API) stated in 1948 that "it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero."[29] The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) classifies benzene as a human carcinogen.

    Long-term exposure to excessive levels of benzene in the air causes leukemia, a potentially fatal cancer of the blood-forming organs, in susceptible individuals (ny comment: The gas co;s like to let frack fluid evaporate)

    Just thought I'd check just 1 of the components of the innocent list your kindly provided. Is it time for more homework?

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2011, at 7:19 PM, modeltim wrote:

    Mark Ruffalo's Crusade Against Fracking: 'The World Is Leaving Us Behind'

    Mark Ruffalo offered direct advice for Huffington Post readers - "Get educated, go to NYH20, go to, go to Damascus Citizens, go to "Gasland." See "Gasland." Educating yourself is probably the greatest thing you can do for yourself and your children." Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he continued, "What people have a hard time now with is hope. They feel like the system is rigged against them, and what I always say, and I know to be true from my own adventures and experiences, is if you're losing hope then you're not doing enough. And it's you, it's not it, it's you. And even writing a letter, you've already engaged in hope. You've done something that's proactive, that's greater than yourself."

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2011, at 7:24 PM, modeltim wrote:

    In 2005, at the urging of Vice President Cheney, fracking fluids were exempted from the Clean Water Act after the companies that own the patents on the process raised concerns about disclosing proprietary formulas - if they had to meet the Act's standards they would have to reveal the chemical composition which competitors could then steal. Fair enough, but this also exempts these companies from having to meet the strict regulations that protect the nation's freshwater supply.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2011, at 7:33 PM, jokurs wrote:

    To all those who think the "fracking process' is harmless should do some research into it's history. I would suggest they start by wa. Simply googletching a documentary called"GASLAND", a movie that won the 2010 Sundance documentary award. Josh Fox, the producer travelled to all of the states, where 'fracking' has been employed for 3 or more years. It's a trail of environmental horror. The gas drillers are a bunch of immoral liars who care only about MONEY.Then please read the entire history of 'Fracking"in the rural town of DIMOCK, PA which is but 30 miles from my home. This area has had it's entire water supplying aquifer poisoned by the fracking chemicals. Please read their tale of horror. There is no way that hydraulic fracturing will ever be safe. Never!!!!!, NEVER!!!! Simply Google DIMOCK/GAS DRILLING?Cabot!

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2011, at 8:56 AM, pfvll wrote:

    FarmGranny -

    "Paraffinic" means a straight-chain (aliphatic)hydrocarbon which, by definition, CANNOT be a closed-ring, or cyclic hydrocarbon, like benzene or napthalene.

    "Iso-paraffinic" means a branched-chain hydrocarbon which by definition CANNOT be a closed-ring, or cyclic hydrocarbon, like benzene or napthalene.

    Be careful about the chemical names you use. Benzene is one particular cyclic (closed-ring) hydrocarbon. It is completely diffferent from benzine, which is a generic name given to various mixtures of several alkanes (straight- and branched-chain hydrocarbons) which have nothing like the toxicity of benzene.

    Those are FACTS of chemistry.

    I'm not criticising you - why should you know chemistry? But how do we address a situation where people do not understand science, but automatically distrust those who do?

    That means you can be easily frightened by those who wish to manipulate you, but cannot be reassured by those who know what they are talking about.

    It's lawyers and pseudo-environmentalists who stir up these scares to make shedloads of money without carrying any responsibiity.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2011, at 2:33 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    Hey Alyce,

    Wish I had a more serious comment to offer but the first thing I thought of when reading the headline was this:

    Frakking BP. (Kidding!)


    Tim (TMFMileHigh and @milehighfool on Twitter)

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2011, at 4:39 PM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    Penn And Teller Get Hippies To Sign Water Banning Petition:


  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2011, at 7:36 PM, modeltim wrote:

    pvfll and other misinformers -

    I don't care whether you have a PhD in Chemistry.

    I have a science background and have no idea what these corporations are using in the fracking process.

    So do you know what is in these proprietary formulas? Go ahead and tell us!

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2011, at 8:21 PM, pfvll wrote:

    modeltim -

    All the chemicals used are registered with Government environmental bodies and freely available to the public on the internet. Try this link for a start:

    If you refuse to believe it, there is nothing anyone can do to help you.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2011, at 8:31 PM, pfvll wrote:

    modeltim -

    How dare you call me a misinformer.

    I post a couple of FACTS - which can be easily checked in any text book, encyclopedia, or even on Wikipedia, to help those who are trying to understand this problem, and that is your reaction.

    How the hell are you going to understand what is going on if you reject straightforward, factual, easily available information?

    Or maybe all you want is an excuse to badmouth corporations, on whatever pretext?

    There is no hope for people like you. You just cause trouble with no sense of responsibility.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2011, at 9:36 PM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    Wow, just wow.

    I wish I would have learned all those Latin terms for describing a logical fallacy. Makes you sound smarter than you are.

    For modeltim, let us parse what he said:

    "pvfll and other misinformers -" here he is calling those that disagree with him liars without empirical OR apocryphal data.

    "I don't care whether you have a PhD in Chemistry." Here he says, "I don't care what your credentials are, my mind is made up and you are wrong".

    "I have a science background and have no idea what these corporations are using in the fracking process." Here he is saying that he is authoritative and that you should listen to him.

    "So do you know what is in these proprietary formulas? Go ahead and tell us!" Others have posted links to this, but you are right in that the fear of disclosing proprietary information to competitors has made the process a bit opaque.

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2011, at 4:25 PM, blesto wrote:

    I'm with FischerFool and FarmGranny. And for jokurs, here is a link about GasLand;

    I'm not a chemist either, but it does disturb me that the companies using this process are supposedly exempt from the Clean Water Act.

    Where does the Buck Stop?

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2011, at 4:41 PM, hudsondusters wrote:

    For thye person talking about Dimock, Pa, I read a quote from an oldtimer from around there who said their water has always had methane gas in it. She could light her water tap back in the '60s I think she said. It doesn't necessarily come from fracking, but what do i know. NY State has a ban on it now anyway for further study.

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2011, at 7:11 PM, devoish wrote:

    A chemical from the links offered in an early reply and its test results.

    quaternary ammonium chloride toxicity

    7.3 Carcinogenicity

    No data available

    7.4 Teratogenicity

    No data available

    7.5 Mutagenicity

    No data available

    7.6 Interactions

    Some studies indicate that the presence of alcohol potentiates the lethal effect (Adelson & Sunshine,


    To those who suggest that the chemicals are benign I would like to suggest actually testing them first. Until then the documented trail of harm in frackings wake will have to serve as all the real evidence their is.

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2011, at 7:13 PM, devoish wrote:

    And I should note that the short term effects were burning eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tracts.

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2011, at 7:14 PM, devoish wrote:

    all the real evidence their is = there is. I hate when that happens.

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2011, at 9:18 PM, CMFStan8331 wrote:

    This thread is a wonderfully awful microcosm of American politics in 2011. Two opposing sides talking right past each other.

    Conservatives and NG supporters ought to be careful about dismissing environmental concerns regarding fracking. If we go a decade or two down the road and it turns out large numbers of people have been harmed or killed as a result of fracking, the NG industry could be largely wiped out by lawsuits and public outrage.

    Liberals ought to be equally careful about claims of horrendous problems with fracking that are not backed up by a LOT of good, hard scientific evidence. Finding a handful of instances where something bad happened is not sufficient to outlaw the practice. For anyone who believes we face a serious threat from global warming, outlawing fracking is tantamount to admitting there's little to nothing we can do about the problem for decades to come. NG is the only cleaner energy source that can really do us any good at all on a global scale within the next 20 - 30 years. If problems are found, we need to work to correct them.

    Nuclear powerplants take a really long time to build, and all other alternative energy options are nowhere near being ready to assume a large percentage of global energy production. We need to keep working on all of them with great intensity, but it's a dangerous delusion to think that things like wind and solar can scale up fast enough to do us much good within the next two decades. Even if some of the developed countries achieve unprecedented rates of alternative energy adoption, the developing world will still be burning hydrocarbons at a dramatically increasing rate. And it's also a fantasy to think that alternative energy industries will not encounter significant environmental impact problems of their own.

    We need to be very careful about making sure that fracking is done safely, because we REALLY need the gas it will provide if there's any hope of significantly reducing hydrocarbon emissions inside the next 20 years. If we lose these coming decades before we start to make any real progress, the ultimate damage from global warming could be considerably more devastating than if we manage to make even some relatively small gains.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2011, at 8:21 AM, devoish wrote:

    The voice of reason.

    "Conservatives and NG supporters ought to be careful about dismissing environmental concerns regarding fracking. If we go a decade or two down the road and it turns out large numbers of people have been harmed or killed as a result of fracking, the NG industry could be largely wiped out by lawsuits and public outrage".

    Even as an accused liberal I don't think I know very many Conservatives who would be more concerned about wiping out the NG industry than having large, or even small, numbers of people being harmed or killed. I suppose there are always some people who are willing to risk their own or other peoples livelihoods and health for a "greater good" like cheap energy but that just doesn't describe most of the people I know.

    To Wobatus, I saw the gasland documentary and the folks that were interviewed said that first they had good water, then there was fracking, then there was contaminated water and health problems among their familys and their herds. While there are probably cases of water well drilling hitting a pocket of NG, that is not what is documented in the video.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2011, at 10:03 AM, pfvll wrote:

    devoish -

    There is, unfortunately, always a minority who regard situaions like this as a chance to 'stick it to the corporations/Conservatives/Government', especially when there is a chance of getting substantial compensation payouts if the lawyers can bring, and win, a large class action suit.

    No, I'm not taking a general swipe at everyone who is against fractured shale bed gas extraction - just the few who are either dishonest or plain ignorant. It can't be denied that it happens - for instance, the few who filed false claims against BP after the Deepwater Horizon fiasco and found themselves facing criminal charges brought NOT by BP, but by the State.

    Unfortunately the media are not especially picky about investigating the claims of those prepared to be interviewed - anyone will do, as long as they make a good story.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2011, at 1:29 PM, katheter wrote:

    When these companies frack in Dick Cheney's back yard, then I will believe that it's a harmless practice.

    No, they go in and offer poor people money, and lie to them about the consequences.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2011, at 12:57 AM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    I would just like to point out that "quatenary ammonium chloride" is not a single chemical compound. What devoish cited about it is misleading. This is text from a poorly done Material Safety Data Sheet.

    This class of compounds has been around for quite a while, and has been extensively investigated. They are found in a number of consumer products. As far as the use of some of these as biocides, I can tell you from personal experience that these are highly regulated.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2011, at 10:36 AM, devoish wrote:


    "I would just like to point out that "quatenary ammonium chloride" is not a single chemical compound. What devoish cited about it is misleading. This is text from a poorly done Material Safety Data Sheet.

    This class of compounds has been around for quite a while, and has been extensively investigated. They are found in a number of consumer products. As far as the use of some of these as biocides, I can tell you from personal experience that these are highly regulated."

    You say that quartenary ammonium chloride has been extensively investigated. I have a "poorly done material data safety sheet" that says otherwise. Unless you have seen something better that you can share with us, I am going with the MDSS and the increased cancers and genetic issues being experienced by the human population in North America where, as you say, these products have been around for "quite a while" and are "in a number of consumer products".

    Perhaps they should not be around any longer, or in any consumer products no matter how long it takes them to harm people.

    But right now, all I've got is a compund that has NOT been tested for low dosage/long duration exposure consequences, or its impact on generational mutation plus increasing numbers of times of exposure and a generally less healthy North American population.

    Under those circumstances extending the time of exposure or increasing the sources of exposure of untested products which wind up in our food, water, clothes, homes and air is just not very smart to me.

    As far as being "highly regulated" goes, regulations based on short term data that does not include generational risks, or low dose/long duration exposures have only been lucky if they are truly adequate.

    And that also leaves aside the entire issue of how these compunds work together, once they get mixed together inside our bodies, which they do.

    There are really far to many "I don't knows" to continue on this course in the face of degrading North American health.

    Steven - in North America.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2011, at 12:02 PM, Fracguy wrote:

    The focus on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing is misdirected.

    The focus should be on the casing design and cementing operations. A properly designed and cemented well will protect the fresh water aquifers from exposure to chemicals used in fracturing and exposure to the naturally occurring chemical present in oil and gas production.

    All of the frac companies are currently researching the use of "green" chemicals so the level of toxicity should begin to diminish, but the fact of the matter is there will still be things used that you (or I) would not want in our drinking water.

    To see the consequences of an improperly cemented well one only has to look at the BP Macondo. Had BP run the recommended diagnostics (cement bond log) they could have taken the necessary steps to repair the cement through a squeeze cement job (at the cost of additional rig time, which I bet they wish they had done)

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2011, at 2:36 PM, hikingphotobug wrote:

    The environmental cost of fires and water contamination related to natural gas and oil drilling is simply unacceptable. Where we hike, climb, camp and bike are directly affected by the numerous toxic chemicals they use to extract the gas and oil, spills, improper run off and the resulting fires from ‘blow-outs’. Even more disturbing is the tax deductions for oil and gas companies and the cost of massive clean up and restoration comes out of our pockets.

    Fires and blowouts are a common occurrences at natural gas wells. (  Just for the sake of comparison, the Hayman fire cost the state of Colorado $40 million in damages, burned 133 homes and forced the evacuation of 5,340 persons.  That was started with a couple of matches and a few pieces of paper. The damage, cost and impact of this fire is small compared to one caused by a gas line blow-out, which is not surprising considering the starting material.

    Here are a few statistics:

    In 2007 the damage to public property by Gas Distribution was $20,043,622 nation wide. (AKA: Your Federal Tax dollars)

    2004-2007: 41 Public fatalities and 87 public injuries.


    and a second reference, just in case there’s any doubt:  

    The Hayman fire has also provided extensive ‘study’ material for just how fire can affect the environment. This gives a glimpse of what to expect as more gas and oil leases are obtained and wells are drilled. Erosion is the most common and well known problem from massive fires, but what does that really mean? When a fire blasts through an area, the heat and damage to the soil and it actually becomes ‘water repellant’. The soil becomes more water repellant as the fire grows more intense. ( The water can’t be adsorbed into the soil and this prevents revegetation. The chemicals involved in a blowout and any related spills will now ‘slide’ over the surface, go further and increase the contamination to streams and lakes. The vegetation in climbing and hiking areas is burned away, the soil is sterile and chemically contaminated. The resulting combination means increased risk of dangerous landslides that can last years after a fire has been in an area. Obviously, this is not good if you happen to be in the hiking or climbing in the immediate area. Go at your own risk.

    It doesn’t stop here, there are countless water related issues.  All drilling requires millions of barrels of fresh water.  ( Last time I checked, Colorado was a bit shy on water and is under attack on a legal basis from 2 states to increase the amount of water released. So not only are there legal battles to defend the water we have, now they want to use it for drilling. Once used for hydraulic fracturing it cannot (at least should not) be released back into streams or recycled, it's hazardous waste. “Tests showed benzene in his water, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission cited four gas operators, not knowing which one was responsible for the spill. Colorado state records show more than 1,500 spills since 2003, in which time the rate of drilling increased 50 percent. In 2008 alone, records show more than 206 spills, 48 relating to water contamination.”(See

    Just for the record, Benzene is a known carcinogen with numerous and devastating health affects which target the kidneys, liver, lung, heart and brain. Benzene works on a cellular level by breaking DNA and causing chromosomal damage. (

    If you read the first paragraph carefully, you might have noticed the same thing I did: “... Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission cited four gas operators, not knowing which one was responsible for the spill.”  That means the regulation is so loose that they can’t even track what operator or company is leaking Benzene all over the place.

    I think this bears repeating:

    “Colorado state records show more than 1,500 spills since 2003, in which time the rate of drilling increased 50 percent. In 2008 alone, records show more than 206 spills, 48 relating to water contamination.”

    Do you know for certain you have not hiked or climbed in an area that was contaminated with Benzene? This stuff is NOT cleaned out by your water filters.

    I recommend you research where the these spills have occurred. (Don’t be too surprised if you can’t find much information.)

    This is a very abbreviated summary regarding the damage we can look forward to as the gas and oil industry continue to push their agenda.

    Oh, by the way, anyone can sign up for a oil and gas lease from the United States Government through this company and others like it, right on line. (

    All that being said, the biggest impact is on those who love to be on the trails and rocks. We know first hand what the damage is and how long it lasts. We have witnessed the closed trails and miles of burned and desiccated wilderness that used to be beautiful vistas with crystal clear streams bubbling along winding, well loved trails. Those now only exist as snapshots and memories.

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2011, at 3:03 PM, hikingphotobug wrote:

    In response to "On January 21, 2011, at 7:11 PM, pfvll wrote:" I'm not sure what state you are referring too or where these meticulous inspections have been taking place, but that is not the case in Colorado.

    “... Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission cited four gas operators, not knowing which one was responsible for the spill.” That means the regulation is so loose that they can’t even track what operator or company is leaking Benzene all over the place."

    I would also urge you to look carefully at the methodology of study data, especially the ones regarding the absolute harmlessness of the chemicals. Granted, saltwater is used for fracking, true it's a 'harmless product", but try this little experiment: Go pour a nice concentrated salt solution on your entire lawn and see what happens. Drink a few glasses too. How about taking a shower? Washing your car? Right, you get the idea.

    The 'data' is not accurate from the outset so the conclusions are flawed.

    Think about it this way: If the first button is not buttoned right, the last button is not going to line up-ever.

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2011, at 3:52 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    Thanks for all the comments and discussions on fracking, everyone. I am reading them and glad to get the information and thoughts on the practice (and want to research into it further).



  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2011, at 6:24 PM, JavaChipFool wrote:

    Having worked in the oil and gas industry as a field geologist for 25 years, The oil and gas industry is like the quote from Churchill re: the US after they declared war in WWII "they can be counted on doing the right thing after all other options have failed" paraphrased loosely.

    Before the permits are issued are when you set up the stipulations

    -make sure a CBL (cement bond log) is run to insure good casing cement

    - make sure separation of aquifers/production zones is insured by vertical distance

    and on and on.

    They(drillers/operators) want this badly- now is the time to get them to agree to terms with significant penalties before they start. The most significant penalty is to shut down the rig- they are incurring costs hourly while drilling, and if they ain't makin' hole, They ain't makin' money

    I think it can be done safely, mostly, but you have to have regs in place to prevent a wild wild west yahoo lets go and drill 'em up gold rush attitude.

  • Report this Comment On January 28, 2011, at 8:30 PM, pfvll wrote:

    hikingphotobug -

    Throwing around names of chemicals and implicit accusations gets nowhere. It doesn't solve the problem. It only stirs up mud so that no one can see what the problem is.

    Firstly, my posting made no mention of "meticulous inspections" . If you didn't read it, please don't criticise it. I did mention the inspection procedure a driller has to go through to set up a well before he is allowed to run it, and it is pretty rigid. However, no way can this procedure, nor is it intended to, identify who has spilled a chemical release when the well is in production. I hope you can see the logic in this.

    Secondly, you cite a Wikipedia article on benzene and its carcinogenicity. Why? What has it got to do with fractured shale gas wells? Under the regulations applied to drilling fluids, they're not allowed to use benzene, and don't do so because they would suffer severe penalties. So how can they release it, and what has it got to do with what we are talking about?

    Thirdly, you give a completely irrelevant example of salt water on a lawn. The fluids used in this process are not nearly as concentrated as water salty enough to affect a lawn. If you look at the data which the drillers have to file with the Environmental authorities, the concentrations of chemicals used are way down below 1%, most less than 0.1%, some less than 0.01%.

    So there you are, throwing out these chemical names, sounding knowledgable, implying devious behaviour on the part of the whole gas drilling industry, and you are in fact talking nonsense.

    If you have a serious intent to help improve safety regulations in the gas drilling business, I suggest you go settle down for a year's serious study of the technology and the existing regulations. When you understand what you are talking about, come back and give 'em hell.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2011, at 1:45 PM, devoish wrote:


    Nice job. Obviously you have spent some time on this issue, and I am glad you did not let the incorrect statements stand.

    Last night on his show Jon Stewart interviewed Boone Pickens and Mr Pickens said that in his entire career of fracking he knew of no water contaminated by fracking. When he can say that despite so much evidence to the contrary I must conclude that the most knowledgable supporters of nat gas fracking are willing to say anything, and are not reliable sources.

    And that sucks.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2011, at 9:14 PM, pfvll wrote:

    devoish -

    Will you please tell us where exactly "so much evidence to the contrary" can be found? I'm serious - tell me where it is and I will apologise for misleading you all and shut up.

    Boone Pickens was right. You and others on this thread post reports of drinking water aquifers and wells contaminated by fractured gas shale fluids, but none of them are proven - just wild accusations based on unchecked media reports, hearsay rumor and accusations from chancers hoping to get a slice of a legal class action..Boone knows, as does any intelligent person, that the gas-bearing shales are thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers and separated from them by many layers of impermeable rock. There's just no way for the gas to get in to the water other than through a fractured well casing. I'm not saying that can never happen, but wells are constantly monitored for this, it's a very rare occurrence and fixable.

    Provide one, single, proven case backed up by scientific evidence and you have a case I, for one, will be eager to listen to. So will drillers, environmental agencies, a wide swathe of the general public and many lawyers. But in all cases so far examined, any gas in the water has been proved by laboratory analysis to have come from biological processes - i.e., from algae in the water or decaying plant matter in the well.

    Of course, you and others like you don't want to hear this. You would rather keep badmouthing big business, because that's what you enjoy doing and the truth spoils your fun. But you do a lot of damage to everyone else by trying to close down an industry of great value to our economy.

    What gets into you that you refuse to see the truth of this PR based hysteria?

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2011, at 8:52 AM, lvanlaer wrote:

    I'm an environmentalist by nature (LOL.) Despite my strong interest in defending the integrity of our natural resources, I'm struck by the blatant hypocrisy we all exercise in regard to such matters. Everyone wants energy... let's admit it, mankind uses it like a bunch of hogs at the trough... but no one wants to acknowledge the inevitable risks and costs for extracting it.

    NO extraction operation is safe. BP isn't doing their job any worse than any other company. The disasters they have faced could happen to any oil or gas company, and they all know it. Someone, however, has to be the poster child for disaster when things go wrong. BP has had sloppy management and a string of bad luck, but the risks are the same for everyone, everywhere.

    Fracking seems to me to carry the same laundry list of risks and benefits other energy extraction industries have. Coal, hands down, has to be the most destructive of all our energy sources all around, but in some delusional way we seem to be able to live with that. Instead we are arguing about fracking while coal operations cheerfully destroy the entire state of West Virginia.

    Fracking is almost certainly going to be less destructive--and natural gas is DEFINITELY cleaner.

    On another note, nuclear energy, which is obviously one of the cleanest and highest yield energy sources around, perpetually gets pitched by hysterical environmentalists as the worst alternative.

    Hey, it SOUNDS bad. It must be bad.

    We might have a little more collective credibility on these issues if we could get our families to just turn off the lights when they're not using them, but so far, I still don't have any luck with that.

    In summary, let's tighten our belts, admit that energy imperialism (outsourcing our extraction operations to communities, states, and countries who have less power) isn't acceptable, and work our way forwards towards a rational admission of our energy needs, and the difficult trade offs necessary in order to satisfy them.

    Yes, unpleasantly, that may mean fracking in upstate New York (just as an example.)

    Perhaps all the folks who are against it ought to turn off all their lights, shut their computers down, and stop driving their vehicles, to set an example consistent with their inspirations.

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