Yesterday, People For hosted a conference call with a panel of experts on Hydraulic Fracturing, or “fracking.” The call focused not only on the dangers of this controversial technique for harvesting natural gas, but also presented an analysis of the special-interest money that is influencing the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, which is holding a hearing today in Bakersfield, California, to discuss fracking regulations.
Audio and text of the conference call are posted below.
Welcome to our call. I'm Marge Baker of People for the American Way.
Tomorrow the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a field hearing in Bakersfield, California entitled "Pathways to Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing and Other New Technologies." Although these field hearings are often overlooked I think this instance is Exhibit A in how representative Darrell Issa is using his chairmanship of the Oversight Committee to ignore the health and welfare of millions of Americans in order to push the anti-regulation, anti-accountability agenda of his and his party's corporate donors and supporters.
Thanks to fracking there are now homes in America in which water coming out of the sink can be set on fire. Congressman Issa's response to this isn't to figure out how to protect people from the potential effects of fracking but to hold a pep rally for oil and gas companies. The question is who does government work for? Does it protect the health and safety of ordinary families? Or does it cater to the interests of powerful, well-connected corporate interests?
On today's call we're joined by Joanne Spalding from the Sierra Club, Deborah Rogers, a small business owner and steering committee member of Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Bill Allayaud from the Environmental Working Group, Sarah Callahan from the Courage Campaign, and Mark McLeod from the Sustainable Business Alliance and the American Sustainable Business Council. Each of our speakers will make some short introductory remarks and then will go to questions that will be moderated by our operator.
So Joanne let's start with you. Can you give us a short introduction to fracking and its potential dangers?
Sure. Fracking's actually a process that has been used for years in both natural gas and oil production. But because of the boom in shale gas that has occurred throughout the country that's brought this method of natural gas production to many areas of the country that haven't previously experienced impacts from natural gas production.
So the way the process works is that wells are drilled into a formation and it can be -- there's usually like a vertical part of the well and then it can go horizontally through the formation, if it's in the case of a shale formation. And once the well is drilled fluids are injected that include water and sand, but also assorted chemicals. And they're injected down into the hole to fracture the shale formation and then that that releases the gas in the formation and the gas flows up.
Natural gas production overall and fracking in particular cause a host of environmental concerns. They pose a risk of water contamination, both from handling of chemicals on the surface, and spills to surface waters, but they also pose a risk because of chemicals being injected into these formations and because there are naturally-occurring chemicals in the formations themselves and other contaminants that can come up through the well and through the pathway created by the well so that there's a risk that toxics can migrate, the gas itself can migrate.
The wells produce a great deal of water and that produced water contains these contaminants from the formation and from the original fracking fluids. And so handling of that produced water can also create environmental concerns. And in addition there are -- because these gas fields are dispersed over a large area and there are wells -- there can be wells over that large area spaced very closely together connected by various roads and there's a lot of heavy duty industrial equipments that are brought into these areas.
They can create a lot of air pollution problems because the equipment itself releases air pollutants, and it's spread out over a very large area. So Wyoming, for instance, is having ozone problems because of all the natural gas production there. So there are a whole host of environmental concerns; that's not all of them, it's just a few of them that are related to the natural gas production itself and fracking in particular.
Okay, that's a really helpful and concise sort of technical explanation; let me turn now to Deborah. You've been affected personally by fracking; could you talk a bit about your experiences with this?
Sure. Good afternoon. I'm Deborah Rogers. I'm an artisanal cheese maker and small business owner and a resident of the Barnett Shale, in Texas. I feel that I'm uniquely qualified to address these questions, since I was the first in North Texas to conduct air testing for emissions during drilling operations. Chesapeake Energy planned 12 high impact wells only feet from my property line. It's well-known now that air toxics can deposit on pastures and be taken up by ruminants and magnified through the food chain. So I went to them and asked them if they would work with me to insure that emissions from their operations would not adversely impact my dairy business. Chesapeake flatly refused.
I had no choice at that time but to conduct extensive baseline testing, and the day I scheduled that air test Chesapeake began flaring a well on the other side of the farm. When I received the tests back there were very high levels of toxics, including benzene and other v-tex constituents and sulfur compounds, including carbon disulfide. The carbon disulfide was approximately 300 times higher than what is considered normal for ambient urban air.
Since that time numerous tests have been conducted both at my farm and other areas around North Texas during drilling operations confirming beyond a shadow of a doubt that such operations due contribute substantially to hazardous air toxics. We hear a great deal about fracking and drilling but all too often it's a bit misleading.
For instance, we all have heard that fracking is a process which has been around for about 60 years and it's been used on hundreds of thousands of wells. This is only partially true. While fracking has been used for a long time hydro fracking using horizontal drill bores has not.
Mitchell Energy began using them in the Barnett only ten years ago. No one knows for certain the migration paths of the water and the compounds injected because horizontal fracking, which is a new technology, creates different patterns and stresses than vertical fracks, which were the type of fracks that were used in the past and are still used occasionally now.
Further we hear only about water contamination and water usage, primarily, when people speak of fracking. Unfortunately air contamination is also an issue due to the massive diesel engines and the compounds used. Further, some compounds used during fracking are not only highly toxic, as the speaker before me just mentioned, but they can transform into even more toxics compounds once they combine with heavy metals and NORM, which is naturally-occurring radioactive material deep within the earth. These toxics are then returned to the surface and can cause environment problems if not disposed of properly.
In late 2009 two municipal water wells just outside of Fort Worth, which had been in operation since the '70s and tests it each year were shut down due to contamination of NORM. These wells had been tested and were found to be normal in 2008. Then four shale gas wells were drilled about four months later, and suddenly the wells were retested and found to contain high levels of radium, a known byproduct of gas drilling. Unfortunately, being Texas the gas wells were not shut in but the water wells were.
Air toxics from drilling operations have also -- are also known to be hazardous. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality concluded in its final report on the Barnett Shale that gas production facilities can and in some cases do emit air contaminants in amounts that can be deemed unsafe, and that is a quote.
Interestingly enough we had a study done by Southern Methodist University in 2009 which concluded that gas drilling in the Barnett Shale was contributing more ozone than all the cars, trucks and airplanes combined in the D-FW area. This was recently confirmed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Formaldehyde, known as a powerful precursor to ozone, was tested during an industry study last year in ranges from 69 parts per billion to 127 parts per billion. Industry, since these findings came out of their study, found themselves in a very embarrassing public relations position, and quickly attributed the formaldehyde to vehicular traffic. There was just one problem: the maximum two-hour roadside concentrations observed ever in the U.S. is only 17 parts per billion, well below the 127 parts found near the natural gas compressor station.
To really put things into perspective: the maximum concentration of formaldehyde in the Houston ship channel, which as we all know is one of the most egregiously-polluted places on Earth, has only been 52 parts per billion, again, less than half of the level that industry detected near its own natural gas compressor station, which by the way also happens to be in the neighborhood. The Houston Advanced Research Groups’ Dr. Jay Olaguer stated in hearings before EPA that after reviewing this data emissions of and human exposure to formaldehyde due to oil and gas exploration and production may be underestimated in the Barnett Shale. In conclusion, there are many unanswered questions with regard to environmental impacts of gas drilling and fracking in particular.
The Barnett Shale has the longest production history and certainly should be scrutinized as a model with regard to the very problems encountered with shale gas drilling. Until such questions can be answered with a relative degree of security, fracking should be allowed only under circumstances of the highest scrutiny. Chemicals should always be disclosed and ongoing monitoring should be imposed for the life of the well. Thank you.
Deborah, thank you. So we've heard a little bit about what Deborah's experienced first-hand in Texas. Bill, could you give us a little bit of a sense of what's going on in California on this issue?
Sure. Well thanks for your interest in this. Our interest was obviously in the subcommittee that's going to be holding the hearing Friday in Bakersfield. It's clearly a stacked witness list and looks like it's going to be kind of a cheering group for, "We need more fracking, we need more oil and gas production." I want to make it clear that Environmental Working Group is not taking a position on shall we drill for oil and gas in this country or anywhere else; we just want to make sure that it's done in a safe manner and that there's public disclosure of the potential impacts. And then things that go wrong should be disclosed.
First I think we came to this issue last year as we've been working on it nationally, and we wondered, "Well, is there fracking going on in California?" We have not heard much, and when we first started to look it appeared not really. And we contact our division of oil and gas overseas, oil and gas drilling in the state. They said, "Not really. One reason gas is too cheap, so they don't do that here," ignoring the fact that you frack for oil too. Second they said it's easy to get the gas out of the ground here; we're not the Marcellus Shale. Third is we don't see much water being used in these fracking wells so therefore they aren't being fracked. And last, we just need to go vertical drilling, not horizontal, which is the classic fracking you see in Texas, Colorado, back East.
So we looked deeper and we found out that indeed fracking has occurred in California for over 50 years. Wells have been fracked in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Monterey County, and all over Curran County. And we started sorting through industry papers and found such interesting facts as there have been well casing failures on fracked wells, that they do drill considerable distances horizontally. They are fracking in low permeability formations like the Marcellus Shale, they just have different names. And last we saw that there have -- like at Curran County there's been massive fracking according to the industry, and in fact the world's record for fracking was set in Curran County at the time in 1994.
So we tried to talk to the Division of Oil and Gas about this; they haven't been very cooperative or forthcoming, and we just noted that last week, after our first hearing on our bill, Assembly Bill AB 591, they removed their relevant web pages about fracking. And then said, "Oh, it was coincidental; we were going to remove those anyway." That's their story and they're sticking by it. But we think their web pages were confusing and just making the issue muddy, basically saying, "We don't do much here."
So we have AB 591 sponsored by Environmental Working Group and co-sponsored by Earthworks, with assembly member Ben Wakowski of the East Bay area. It would do five things; it would say, "Disclose your water use, where you get it, how much, disclose if you're injecting any radiologic elements as tracers and what happened to them. If you're near any active seismic faults, as we found in Arkansas and other states, that fracking can cause earthquakes. And most importantly, really, is what chemicals are you injecting? And we want to know what they are, the composition, the formulation, and lastly are you injecting any Proposition 65 chemicals?" So those familiar with California law these are those that cause cancer or reproductive harm. We think neighbors ought to be notified that if you're going to inject these chemicals and the industry says they're widely used you should know that. So if something shows up in your water you will know where it came from.
Last I would point out that the movie Gas Land was a revelation for a lot of people. We don't see those kind of incidents here yet; they may be, though, because occurring -- Division of Oil and Gas really can't tell us how many wells have been fracked, where they're being fracked, what chemicals are being used. There may be stuff going on out there we don't know about but more importantly as the industry gets more and more interested in fracking in California such as in the Monterey Shale formation which covers 13 counties in the central and coastal areas, we need to get ahead of the curve so that we're adequately regulating this type of drilling and oil and gas recovery, and California protecting the public interest, our natural resources, and there's transparency in the process. Thank you.
Bill, thank you so much. So Sarah, Bill alluded to the -- at the beginning of his comments about sort of the stacked witness list that we're expecting tomorrow. Could you talk a little bit about the money trail here? How much of what we'll hear at tomorrow's hearings will be coming from individuals and companies that have contributed to Chairman Issa and others on the Oversight Committee?
Absolutely. This is Sarah Callahan from the Courage Campaign and the Courage Campaign is a national accountability project called Issa Watch, which is designed to hold Chairman Issa accountable for his record, his rhetoric and performance as the House Oversight Committee chairman.
As soon as he took control of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa asked leading oil and drilling trade groups to recommend an agenda for his committee. Issa personally collected tens of thousands of dollars from oil companies with a direct interest in streamlining drilling standards, and the witnesses he's chosen represent oil interests who have spent millions on repealing environmental regulations at the ballot box last year, more specifically in Prop 23 here in California.
And just two weeks after fracking caused a major chemical spill in California Darrell Issa's using his perch at the helm of the Oversight Committee to really provide them a press conference on the taxpayers' dime.
His handpicked witness list includes a sort of who's who of spokespeople for the interest of big oil. The CEO of Devon Energy has contributed nearly $400,000 in personal donations in support of Republican candidates and interests, which also includes major funding in the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and IPAA responded specifically to Issa's solicitation for hearing recommendations with a request to explore streamlined drilling operations and relaxed EPA standards.
Issa has also called a representative from Westminster Petroleum Association, which kind of represents a who's who of largest oil companies in the world and combined member corporations have directly funded Issa with nearly $80,000 in campaign funds, and -- but more than $6 million attempting to suspend AB 32 Environmental Protections, which was Prop 23 on the November ballot.
Finally Issa called representative of the California Independent Petroleum Association which spent more than $200,000 in 2010 supporting Republican candidates in California. And he's done all of this hand-in-hand with House Republican whip Kevin McCarthy, who banked more than $100,000 personally from the energy and natural resources sector just in 2010. And this is really their opportunity to be able to showcase the industry and move forward to expand technologies like fracking at their behalf.
And tomorrow the Courage Campaign will be providing a petition, delivering a petition with thousands and thousands and thousands of Californians and constituents in this district would like them to focus more on the real problems of everyday folks and not doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry.
Sarah, thank you so much. So Mark, last but certainly not least. Sarah's given us an idea of who we'll be hearing from tomorrow and my guess is what we'll be hearing from those folks is that any regulation of fracking is bad for business. As a businessperson yourself what's your take on that flat out rejection of any kind of regulation?
Well I am -- have been charged on this call with talking about businesses and business networks which take a very, very different position on this than Daryl Issa. The two organizations for which I'm speaking today are Business Alliance, which is in East Bay, in California, across from San Francisco -- East Bay Alliance of businesses that are focused on not just the single financial bottom line but on the triple bottom line, which is the three bottom lines are the environmental bottom line, social justice bottom line and the financial bottom line.
And in addition I am representing the American Sustainable Business Council, which also embraces those triple bottom line, and which is a Washington, DC-focused organization which identifies public policy that's being debated in Washington, DC, identifies those pieces of legislation which have a significant impact, have a triple bottom line focus, and which then tries to do effective lobbying on those groups. The organizations that I represent are focused on the bottom line, and another way of looking at that triple bottom line is three key words, they're focused on people, they're focused on planet, and they're focused on profit, the three Ps.
Because these businesses have their orientation, they support, very strongly support the Environmental Protection Agency's playing a strong regulatory role relative to hydrological fracturing, which is also known as hydrofracking.
The EPA’s charge, since passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, well over 35 years now, has been, quote, "To protect public health, adding injection wells, emanating underground sources drinking water.
In Urbana, or EEN Urbena, an article published a couple of weeks ago in The New York Times on April 16th explains why it is important for the EPA to play a strong role regulating hydrofracking. It makes two very significant assertions. One: 14 of the nation's most active hydraulic fracturing companies use 866 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products, and this is the topper: not including water. So that's 866 million gallons of the hydraulic fracturing products.
Of those 866 million gallons two thirds contain chemicals which are known or possible human carcinogens regulated under the Safe Water Drinking Act. A prime example of such a carcinogen, which is used in great quantity in these hydraulic fracturing products is benzene, a long-identified carcinogen.
Companies which honor the triple bottom line do not favor responding to dwindling oil supplies by resorting to ever more desperate attempts to pump the last and most difficult to access oil reserves. To the contrary, companies that honor the triple bottom line favor responding to the dwindling oil reserves by investing heavily in the development of non-carbon energy technologies. The United States and Western Europe are to reach zero carbon emissions by the year 2050 which we must do if we are going to have a world in 2050 which we recognize having some similarity to the world we live in now, or young technologies.
And what is particular promising is one, new and improved technologies for carbon sequestration; two, wind energy; three, solar photovoltaic; four, solar thermal. Companies that honor the triple bottom line see such investments developing the energy of the 21st century in contrast to investment recovering the last gallons of oil, which was the energy of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In conclusion triple bottom line-oriented companies ought to grow new technologies, new jobs which will emerge as technologies do. While the EPA plays a vital role in minimizing the damage which hydrofracking will do over the next decade, our businesses ought to build the energy economy that will truly honor people, planet and prosperity. Thank you.
Thank you so much, and thank you panels. I think we're ready now to open this up to questions.
Hi. My question is just really a clarification on two points: the petitions that will be delivered tomorrow; who's delivering them and who are you delivering them to, now many are you expecting, et cetera? And the bill, I can't remember the number that you're talking about in California, I mean is there a path to passage this year on that or is that sort of maybe the first year of a multiyear effort?
Great questions. Sarah, do you want to take the first question on the petitions?
Sure, absolutely. It'll be delivered directly to Daryl Issa, and it will be tomorrow at his hearing at 10 o'clock at the chamber of the board of supervisors where he's conducting the hearings. And I think it'll be a small and hearty band of folks from the district, from Curran Counties that are -- have directly experienced the damage of fracking in their community. And many from the greater Central Valley area and the Central Valley Quality Coalition, who have been working on trying to clean up the Central Valley air for many, many years. So my guess is somewhere between a dozen and twenty folks will be there tomorrow morning.
And if I could just -- will they be protesting outside and holding signs or anything too?
There'll be signs, of course, and -- but particularly we'll be working on delivering that petition to oppose greatly expanded fracking and to not give in to his oil industry buddies, which we know is likely to do.
And Bill can you address AB 591 and its prospects?
Yeah we plan on moving it through this year. In California if you become what's known as a two-year bill it means you've likely failed this year and you're trying – they say, "Let's put it over to next year." We have no such plans. It already passed the assembly Natural Resources Committee; it was on a party line vote, incidentally. It's now in the assembly Appropriations Committee, which assesses fiscal impacts. We're concerned there because in this state right now you can kill a bill if you're the opposition by just showing that it even -- we have a hint of a cause.
So we're working -- what we want to work with the Division of Oil and Gas on that; so far we haven't sat down with them. But we have sat down with the various elements of the oil and gas industry, western states, Petroleum Association and the Independent Producers, and also a couple of individual oil companies.
And I would say our talks are hopeful with them. They're at least saying they want to work something out, and they want to be leaders in this realm of chemical disclosure, but we'll see. Obviously we'll have to wait and see; they may be biding their time too. I have to believe if we get through appropriations, we're confident we will, that on the assembly floor they will work the conservative members of the Democrat Party, and of course the Republicans and try and kill the bill on the assembly floor.
So our goal is maybe to sit down further and discuss possible avenues of agreement. If not, we know what our bottom line is about public disclosure and getting these chemicals listed, and other impacts related to water that should be known.
Okay well then thank you very much, everyone, for joining us for the call, and I'm sure we will be back in touch on these issues. So thank you so much.