The Perils and Promise of Fracking

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica reporter; Mark Boling, executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary at Southwestern Energy; and Stu Gruskin, consultant and former executive deputy of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, discuss fracking—how it works, its pros and cons, its promise and perils.


Mark Boling, Stu Gruskin and Abrahm Lustgarten

Comments [43]

Katherine from Brooklyn, NY

I'm surprised that the increased incidence of earthquakes in areas where fracking is taking place was not discussed yesterday. Lenny said only that "some people suggest" that fracking causes earthquakes. Well, it's more than just 'some people" and it's more than a suggestion. There is conclusive evidence coming from geologists, who state that fracking can indeed cause earthquakes, and their reported increases. Specifically, there were 11 earthquakes in Ohio over the past year, several in Arkansas a couple of years ago attributed to fracking, and there is great concern about fracking in Pennsylvania around the Marcellus Shale. This, and the likely pollution of air and water are all good reasons to say NO to fracking! Why can't companies find a greener way to go?

Towns who have elected to ban fracking from their limits are right to do so. Another concern that wasn't addressed is that fracking will ultimately cause property values to plummet, once the damage is done. Then it will be too late and corporations, not to be trusted here, will never clean up the mess, even if they're able to.

Apr. 05 2012 10:58 AM
Why not use LIQUID NITROGEN in Fracking ?

As you may remember from High School, soaking most materials
in LIQUID NITROGEN makes it extremely brittle. Even a rubber ball
can be EASILY SHATTERED with a mild applied shock / force when it
has been emersed briefly in Liquid Nitrogen.

Pump liquid nitrogen into the Fracking hole. Then initiate a mild
shock wave. The severely cooled rock around the hole should
SHATTER. The liquid nitrogen will then evaporate. (Recall that
most of our atmosphere is composed of nitrogen gas).
The process can then be repeated to extend the hole.

Perhaps this possibility should be examined by the FRACKING industry
as a more environmentally friendly solution ?

Apr. 04 2012 04:12 PM
Michael Villacres from Queens, NY

Click on link to NY's PBS station, WNET, for its Need to Know show's hydrofracking story from August 2010.

Apr. 04 2012 03:44 PM

A side issue that is a whole other conversation of this is the financial structure used to do all this. You make big bucks in one year, pay out as much of the profits as possible at year-end, and keep repeating as long as possible. Years down the road when the environmental costs catch up, [or the legal costs from poisoning people, or other costs like unfunded pension liabilities, etc etc], you just go bankrupt, (presuming you can't bankrupt your victims via litigation...). The people who profited all along get off the hook this way and are not held responsible for the long term affects of their company. Best case senario you can even walk across the street to a new company and buy the "good" assets of the bankrupt one, leaving the liability on the taxpayers.

Conspiracy theory? If only! It's a well used pattern with such famous names as WR Grace and [Halliburton subsidiary] Dresser Industries to get away from asbestos and Kerr-McGee in nuclear waste (spun off into Tronox, which then went bankrupt).

PS This isn't a rant against capitalism, it's a call for "full-cost capitalism", where the health and environmental costs aren't put off balance sheet to the taxpayer, IE the American people.

Apr. 04 2012 01:03 PM
Susan from NYC + PA

Bill from New Rochelle, please note that what is officially considered the reservoir region does not include areas that have waterways and aquifers that are directly connected to the reservoir region.

Current regulations with regard to injecting poisons into the ground do not take into account that waterways are not discrete and controllable. They are interconnected and pervasive. Poison one region and you risk the health of people and ecosystems at a distance as well.

Apr. 04 2012 01:01 PM
marilyn from manahttan

SORRY. CORRECTION AGAIN: Frackonomics forum is Tues April 24 - that's twenty-fourth.

Apr. 04 2012 12:59 PM
marilyn from Manhattan

CORRECTION: Frackonomics forum is Tuesday April 25.

Apr. 04 2012 12:56 PM
Bill from New Rochelle

Dear karlafisk,

Great observation. Perhaps they should grant fracking licence & superfund status together!

Have you visited Scandia Food & Gifts in Norwalk?

Apr. 04 2012 12:55 PM
marilyn from Manhattan

Don't believe the industry spin. Get the facts behind the myths at a forum Frackonomics: Debunking the Financial Myths of Shale Gas and Embracing a Green Energy Future. Tuesday April 25th, 6:45 pm, at the NY Society for Ethical Culture, 2 W 64th St at Central Park West. See for more info.

Apr. 04 2012 12:54 PM
William from Manhattan

Well. After listening to Mark Boling I'm more convinced than ever that we should not frack New York State. The industry just doesn't have the technology to ensure the integrity of the aquifer and the ground. Fracking is a profoundly violent form of resource extraction, and not something a sane society would undertake. Basically, a decision to allow fracking is a decision to bomb ourselves. (Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security should be brought into the discussion - I bring this up not entirely in jest.)

Apr. 04 2012 12:51 PM
Bill from New Rochelle

Dear meatwnyc,


I only heard half the show, don't know if it was mentioned; but the NYC resevoir regions have already been excluded from fracking.

Apr. 04 2012 12:51 PM
Susan from NYC + PA

Please ask Lustgarten about the environmental threats of the compressor stations required for transporting the gas!

Apr. 04 2012 12:42 PM

How far away from these wells do Gas Company executives live?

Apr. 04 2012 12:42 PM from Inwood, NYC

Fracking is exempt from the Federal Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, thanks to Cheney's notorious Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act 2005.

If fracking wasn't exempt, every fracking well pad would be a U.S. Superfund site. The whole shale gas extraction process is seriously toxic, throughout the whole production cycle.

Fracking chemicals that are added to the fracking fluid add up to 100s of thousands of gallons of neurotoxins, carcinogens, and out and out poisons.

Apr. 04 2012 12:41 PM
Kai from New York

@ Joni Blackburn -

Details regarding fracking fluid chemicals (from Mr. Lustgarten's ProPublica):

What the Frack is in That Water?

"...According to a 2011 congressional report, many of the chemicals used can pose a serious health risk. No one knows the exact makeup of the frack mixture, drilling muds and other stuff used at well sites (which change from well to well), but this list breaks down the main ingredients revealed so far. Click on the chemical name for more detailed information."

Apr. 04 2012 12:40 PM

re Bill:

b/c that's where NYC has its reservoirs. Perhaps that's the goal of the Texas based gas companies, to poison and kill off the liberal NYers! (Sarcasm, I hope...).

Apr. 04 2012 12:40 PM
jaime from ellenville,ny

Gas prices is a refinery issue and the fact US oil companies can get more for it in Europe and other parts of the world then the US. We are a net exporter of gasoline. Require more refineries be built

Apr. 04 2012 12:39 PM
Bill from New Rochelle

To be completely cynical; Since western & upstate NY is just a money pit and black hole that eats money from downstate, wouldn't it suit us to let them poison themselves off?

My property taxes would be cut by a third, if most of my NYS income tax were not transferred from Westchester, LI, Putnam, Rockland, & the 5 Boros to places like Wyoming or Broome County; but rather, returned to me.

They want to drink poison, why stop their hand?
Let them all leave.

Apr. 04 2012 12:37 PM
Marilyn Stern from Manhattan

If fracking is so safe, why did the industry get it exempted from ALL federal environment acts, including the Safe Drinking Water and Superfund Acts? Also, please ask your guests to talk about disposal of the contaminated flowback water. In Pennsylvania, it sits in open pits and is even poured on roads. In NY, plans are to dump it into municipal sewage treatment plants which are not equipped for such waste, inc. in Westchester and L.I. It's not considered hazardous thanks to the "Halliburton Loophole." ...Don't be fooled people. FRACKING IS INHERENTLY UNSAFE AND WASTEFUL OF PRECIOUS WATER. It's also a terrible investment. Check out the last estimate of reserves by the USGS: Reduced 80% from what the industry was touting.

Apr. 04 2012 12:35 PM
Carol Bogard from Wilton, CT

What about the sheer volume of chemical-laced water that is used in this process? Water is not an infinite resource. This is particularly problematic as "fracking" migrates to impoverished areas of the world (in Africa, for example) that are already dealing with water scarcity. This is a catastrophe in the making! So . . .

Why can't this process be brought back under the regulation of the Clean Water Act?

Apr. 04 2012 12:34 PM
Michael D.D. White from Brooklyn Heights

If just in the last year the cost of solar cells dropped by half (as it did) and that trend continues or accelerates (as expected) how long before solar makes fracking uneconomic?

Apr. 04 2012 12:34 PM
Joni Blackburn

I'd like to know what the actual chemicals are that make up the "lubricants" and "surfactants" mentioned by the speaker when he was asked what was used. He was allowed to skirt the question by describing their purpose, not their chemical makeup. Why, Lenny?

Apr. 04 2012 12:34 PM

Look at the price of natural gas: around $2

There is no shortage of natural gas in the US supply right now. Most of the pure play natural gas companies that don't have oil to fall back on are on the ropes right now, (that's why there's been rumors of a Chinese company taking over the number one Canadian player, Encana, or maybe Talisman). The market is saying right now that there's plenty of natural gas in the North American market, and it doesn't need more. There is plenty of time to have the environmental conversation first about how to do this right and clean.

Apr. 04 2012 12:33 PM
Susan from PA + NYC

Leonard! What kind of a radio journalist are you?!! When you ask a question like "What chemicals are you putting into the ground?" you need to know the answer, or at least something close to it rather than total ignorance. You got an answer from an industry shill and you did not challenge it! Shame on you. It has been proven through specific testing of spills that fracking fluid contains over 900 chemicals, with over 80 of them being proven carcinogens. In general, why have an industry hack on your show? How about a scientist who has done independent, not industry research?

Apr. 04 2012 12:32 PM

There was a preliminary study done on the side effects of fracking which was intended primarily to determine if there further study was called for (the answer was yes) and was explicitly not to be used as a basis for policy, but has been quoted quite a bit and may wind up being used that way. Has the follow-up been done? Is there now a good source of statistical data on how common and severe problems attributable to fracking actually are?

Apr. 04 2012 12:32 PM
Charlie N from Essex County, NJ

The big problems are with sealing the outermost casing against the rock, no matter what the depth. Even new wells have 6% failure in this seal and worsens with age. These leaks are migration paths for gas and the toxic frac water combined with geologic contaminents. The saddest part of the process is the loss of millions of gallons of water per well, half of which stays in the ground and may migrate to cause problems later and half of which comes back up and must be disposed of. Each well pad can have as many as 24 horizontal wells. We are talking about billions (with a B) of gallons of water contaminated and in the ground for centuries. Who is liable for environmental damage decades after wells are abandoned?

Apr. 04 2012 12:31 PM
Michael D.D. White from Brooklyn Heights

If the fracking industry were required to internalize (i.e pay for)just the cost of of repairing the road damage caused by its trucks would it still be profitable?

(That leave out the question of the industry's internalizing and paying for other negative externalities: Green house effects, including from methane, polluted water, massive quantities of appropriated water, radiation and radon contamination, earthquakes, air pollution causing health effects like neuropothies, etc.)

Apr. 04 2012 12:31 PM
Jessica from Mahwah, NJ

I am an environmental science student and I want to thank you for bringing this topic to the surface.

I go to college in Mahwah, NJ at Ramapo College. A company called Tennessee Gas I believe is trying to install a natural gas pipeline through and under our reservation, an outdoor hiking spot that many people enjoy, an area where people also live.

Does anyone know more about this company's history in performing such a land disturbance?

Apr. 04 2012 12:30 PM

Unsafe chemicals aside (seriously, what company will publicly admit to pumping toxins into the ground) what affect does fracking have on the water table and general underground destruction causing things like sinkholes etc..

Apr. 04 2012 12:30 PM
Joe from Bayside

Please ask why this industry asked for and got an exemption from abiding from the "Clean Water Act". If this process is safe for our ground water why get this exemption? What are they afraid of?

Apr. 04 2012 12:29 PM
Faith S.

I am one of the people who has sent a postcard. I have done reading and I have been to many hearings regarding the issue.
I am suspect of any company who will not conform to OSHA regulations- the companies are refusing inspections using secrecy of ingredients as a ploy.

Our weather has been so erratic, what happens if there is a drought? Will you be leaving an eyesore? How many habitats will you be destroying.

Why doesn't these companies explore safe sources of energy?


Apr. 04 2012 12:28 PM
garth from brooklyn

How can we possibly talk about trusting the government to regulate this practice? Even if Obama put good regulators in place, we know for certain that the next republican president would appoint the ex CEO of one of these gas companies to regulate the industry!

Apr. 04 2012 12:25 PM
Michael D.D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Given that the fracking industry's own figures say that 5% of all wells leak immediately and that 50% of well leak eventually (and that the true percentages may actually be higher) and that a typical drilling pad might have sixteen wells (plus that fact that the radiation released by fracking involves a half-life of thousands of years, how long does it take for all the damage caused by fracking to materialize?

Apr. 04 2012 12:25 PM
Jonathan gordon

Can they address the wisdom of fracking along the important delaware river, providing water to so many urban areas and also a natural tresure?

Apr. 04 2012 12:21 PM
Laura from Brooklyn

Since many have predicted there will be serious global water shortages in future decades, I am surprised fracking can be considered a viable part of our energy strategy. I wonder if your guests can talk more about the quantities of water that are needed in the drilling process and how much of our drinking water is put at risk from fracking.

Apr. 04 2012 12:17 PM
jaime from ellenville,ny

Why cant the entire opperation take place below water table? Put vertical elevator shaft and keep all fluids at horizontal point. Never go through water table.

Apr. 04 2012 12:15 PM
Roscoe from New Windsor, NY

Could your guests, Leonard, address whether it's more a matter of embracing different values (economic exploitation of resources v. environmental protection of resources) when it comes to fracking, or if the FACTS point in one direction or another? I can imagine--and could believe--that your guests embrace BOTH values, but that they favor one over the other. I want your guests to help us clear through the facts, and admit if 'the other side' has legitimate or illegitimate analyses of the facts. If it's ultimately argument based on values, that's fine; I can live with that.

Apr. 04 2012 12:11 PM
antonio from bayside

Question: Is there a way to use chemicals that are not toxic? Am I wrong to suspect that the Fracking Industry uses chemicals because it's cheaper? What if they used dirt, composite..etc.

Apr. 04 2012 12:10 PM
Kai from New York

Per Chesapeake Energy: Average Frack job = 4.5 million gallons of water

Up to 1 million gallons of toxic flowback wastewater returns to the surface for every frack job.


Really? Shale Gas Fracking Uses a Lot of Water? Really!

Apr. 04 2012 12:08 PM
Jon Pope from Ridge, NY

Here's a few quick facts about fracking for oil. Fracking for oil is only economical when a barrel of oil is above $90. Why? It takes 1 barrel of oil to get only 3 barrels out of the ground and it takes 3 barrels of water to get one barrel of oil out of the ground (Popular Science, July 2011). Man can and has lived without oil for millions of years. But Man cant live more then a few days without drinkable water.....

Apr. 04 2012 12:07 PM
Jenna from UES

One big issue that is never brought up is the impact on the local economy fracking has. In small fracking towns in Pennsylvania we've seen rents rise from $300 a month one-bedrooms to $1200 a month. This has a HUGE impact on people below the poverty line.

Apr. 04 2012 12:03 PM
Shenna from UES

Can you ask your guest about T. Boone Picken's apparent bait-and-switch media campaign for alternative energies? He campaigned locally on foot all through PA and has seemingly abandoned solar and wind after winning big with gas. Seems fishy to me.

Apr. 04 2012 12:02 PM
Jim Rapp from Equinunk Pa.

I wish to address the financing of Fracking. As reported on CNBC their study of MLP's the instrument created to finance the industry concluded that these instruments are way too complicated to unwravel, so they could not understand them but were of the opinion that they were in scale, scope, and design AKIn to the very instruments that collapsed our economy IE: MBS's and credit default swaps. Do we really want to allow foreign companies to purchase the rights to pollute aquifers, destroy ecosystems, displace existing economies, and export the gas leaving Americans with a toxic nightmare. Please lets be honest about the implications, so Americans can make an educated decision.

Apr. 04 2012 10:50 AM

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