The movie "Promised Land, " in theaters now, stars Matt Damon & John Krasinski opposing each other as natural gas salesman and the environmentalist intent on stopping him from getting drilling rights in a small Pennsylvania town, sitting on a huge reserve of oil shale. The movie, much like much of the global warming movement, pushes their own brand of reality on the dangers of fracking (the process of drilling for natural gas from oil shale).
As Matt Cover from CNS news describes:
The film is financed in part by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media which is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, one of 13 Arab emirates that makes up the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and serves as that country’s capitol.
Abu Dhabi media was created by the Abu Dhabi government in 2007 with $27.3 million as part of that country’s effort to diversify its economy into new markets such as media production.
The film’s Abu Dhabi connection is significant, because the UAE is the world’s third largest oil exporter, according to 2011 figures from the U.S. Energy Information Agency. The country also holds the 7th largest proven reserves of crude oil and natural gas in the world. The UAE was ranked 17th in the world in natural gas production in 2010, according to EIA.
Since the UAE is a major producer of natural gas in the world, and with the U.S.’s bright prospects of becoming a major producer themselves in the market of natural gas with the recent discoveries of oil shale deposits, this clearly puts the UAE at odds with any U.S. success in this market or its hopes of more energy independence.
One very visual tactic in the movie, used to push the drama of their narrative, is a scene with Krasinski’s character using the faucet in a 5th grade classroom and hoaxing to set the children’s pet turtle on fire. This effect is incorrectly attributed to being caused by fracking. The same thing is also portrayed in the documentary "Gasland." However, the cause for this condition is the occasional, naturally occurring amounts of methane gas in wells, and is not caused by fracking as shown by scientists at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Another fact that the movie can’t get correct is the story of natural gas seeping into ground water. This too has been debunked by even someone who is no friend of the oil industry, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, on FOX News in April 2012,
“In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”
Just in case you’d rather not sit through this movie, you can read the script as posted on Facebook and the Heritage Foundation back in November.
So what are the fracking facts?
One geologist, Dr. Steven Marshak at the University of Illinois, is from a state that does not frack but instead relies on coal and nuclear power for their energy. Dr. Marshak had this to say on the risks of fracking:
Here are the five settled facts on fracking:
There’s definitely some weird stuff in fracking fluid
- “What is in these fracking fluids? Probably organic chemicals like diesel fuel, antifreeze, soap, things designed to make [the fluid] slipperier. “These things are not things you want to be dumping into drinking water.”
But as long as it’s done deep enough, the fracking process should not affect sources of drinking water
- “The layer of black shale is down in the subsurface several thousand feet. If you can drill down to that level, the hydrofracturing cracks do not extend more than 1000 feet or so; the ends of the cracks are still going to be several thousand feet below the surface [where wells and aquifers sit].”
Natural gas can leak up to the surface, but it’s often the result of natural processes
- “The image of turning on a water faucet and having natural gas leak out, in general those are situations where they have sunk their well into a sandstone that has already filled with gas; that gas is naturally accumulating.”
But a lot can still go wrong with the fracking process
- “There are some real problems. If the shale horizon is too close to surface … it probably shouldn’t be hydrofracked so you avoid contaminating water. You also need to make sure you’re inspecting well sites, that you don’t have middle of night dumping of excess fluid into streams, that retention pits are properly sealed.” The process also does cause measurable but small earthquakes, he said.
Bottom line: similar to off-shore drilling for oil, it’s possible for something to go wrong, but it’s not inherently unsafe. The debate needs to catch up with this reality.
- “It’s worth looking more closely at it. My sense is, you end up with two sides that are pretty far apart and not really listening to each other. The public is overreacting to certain things, but there are other things the industry is underplaying.”
The Wall Street Journal from June 25, 2011 also had a good article breaking down the facts on fracking and addressing some of the specific concerns.
Fracking releases toxic or radioactive chemicals. The reality is that 99.5% of the fluid injected into fracture rock is water and sand. The chemicals range from the benign, such as citric acid (found in soda pop), to benzene. States like Wyoming and Pennsylvania require companies to publicly disclose their chemicals, Texas recently passed a similar law, and other states will follow.
Drillers must dispose of fracking fluids, and environmentalists charge that disposal sites also endanger drinking water, or that drillers deliberately discharge radioactive wastewater into streams. The latter accusation inspired the EPA to require that Pennsylvania test for radioactivity. States already have strict rules designed to keep waste water from groundwater, including liners in waste pits, and drillers are subject to stiff penalties for violations. Pennsylvania’s tests showed radioactivity at or below normal levels.
Fracking causes cancer. In Dish, Texas, Mayor Calvin Tillman caused a furor this year by announcing that he was quitting to move his sons away from “toxic” gases—such as cancer-causing benzene—from the town’s 60 gas wells. State health officials investigated and determined that toxin levels in the majority of Dish residents were “similar to those measured in the general U.S. population.” Residents with higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. (Cigarette smoke contains benzene.)
Fracking causes earthquakes. It is possible that the deep underground injection of fracking fluids might cause seismic activity. But the same can be said of geothermal energy exploration, or projects to sequester carbon dioxide underground. Given the ubiquity of fracking without seismic impact, the risks would seem to be remote.
Pollution from trucks. Drillers use trucks to haul sand, cement and fluids, and those certainly increase traffic congestion and pollution. We think the trade-off between these effects and economic development are for states and localities to judge, keeping in mind that externalities decrease as drillers become more efficient.
Shale exploration is unregulated. Environmentalists claim fracking was “exempted” in 2005 from the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, thanks to industry lobbying. In truth, all U.S. companies must abide by federal water laws, and what the greens are really saying is that fracking should be singled out for special and unprecedented EPA oversight.
Bottom line? Like any development of energy producing there are risks, serious risk, and dangerous ones if not regulated or monitored properly. There does seems to be alot of pushing of agendas For & Against the side of fracking, and the development of the process needs to have ongoing scrutiny in order to safely perfect what could be a process that ends with more energy independence for the U.S. It is also worth noting that if we had an administration that was more open to oil drilling & coal mining, this might have been an avenue not so largely pursued, in what is turning into a desperate struggle to avoid ‘energy prices (that) may necessarily skyrocket."