Frack You

For those of you who don’t read ClimateProgress, sometimes it surprises — and worries — me.


One such disturbing post is this, which reveals that in Pennsylvania, a state heavily invested in hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), “The Pennsylvania Department of Health instructed its employees never to talk to residents who complained of negative health effects from fracking.

Yes, you read that right. The Department of Health.

In other disturbing news, the post reports that “a Pennsylvania law makes it illegal for doctors to tell their patients which fracking chemicals are poisoning them.” Yes, you read that right too.

It’s bad enough that fossil-fuel companies put money ahead of human health. But we expect that from them. What we don’t expect is that lawmakers — elected representatives of the people — would not only permit some of these practices, they would support them with the force of law.

In other blog news, the Rabett has summed up what “the consensus” really is. Namely this:


Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere at current rates will increasingly cause bad things to happen. Over the next one to two hundred years this will lead to VERY BAD things happening.

Very bad things indeed.

38 responses to “Frack You

  1. These laws amount to gag rules that enforce the consumption of toxic materials…

  2. Desmogblog is a good source for fracking and pipeline outrage on the politics/law end of things.

    Recent reports in the literature indicate that even without the health issues, fracking leaks so much methane it’s no better than coal.

    • Not really accurate. It would take at least 3x more leakage than current estimates (e.g. Brandt et al 2014) to make gas worse than coal, at least over a 100-year timeframe.

    • Nigel Harris

      Coal leaks methane too. According to EPA data (see US GHG Inventory 2014 table ES-2) the US coal industry was responsible for methane emissions equivalent in GHG impact to 55.8 million tonnes of CO2e in 2012. The Natural gas industry’s figure for the same year was, indeed higher at 129.9 million tonnes.

      Assuming I’m talking to a US audience, that’s 286 trillion lbs CO2e of methane from the natural gas industry, which produces roughly 25 quadrillion BTU of natural gas a year. So around 11 lbs CO2e per MMbtu.

      For coal, the figures are 123 trillion lbs CO2e of methane emissions to produce 20 quads of coal so only 6 lbs CO2e per MMbtu.

      But when you burn the gas and the coal, the gas creates 117 lbs of CO2 for every MMbtu, while coal creates 206 lbs of CO2 for every MMBtu (and that’s not even taking into account the fact that every MMBtu of natural gas burned can generate far more kWh of electricity than an MMBtu of coal, because gas plants are far more efficient).

      So the extra 5 lbs CO2e of fugitive methane emissions to create one MMbtu of natural gas instead of one MMbtu of coal rather pales into insignificance compared with the extra 89 lbs of actual CO2 created by burning the coal instead of the gas.

  3. Part 1: Capitalize the gains, socialize the risks.
    Part 2: Keep the risks secret.
    Brilliant. What could possibly go wrong?

  4. What we don’t expect

    You don’t expect that in a system where GDP growth and limitless profit is a religion, Big You-name-it doesn’t use the government as a special department for getting things either done or not done?

  5. For some laughs. I’d guess the ally or allies of Fogh is friends with Monckton the pier, I’m just hoping ‘ally’ doesn’t mean company as in “you’re known by the company you keep”, :
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/fracking/10911942/Russia-in-secret-plot-against-fracking-Nato-chief-says.html
    http://rt.com/news/167260-greenpeace-russian-fracking-plot/

    • The silly statement from NATO chief about environmental groups being in cohesion with Russia to campaign against fracking really tells us what this whole conflict is about – securing energy rights. It also tells us who is pulling the strings behind NATO in much of the politics about “security” – its really more about western energy security. Not supporting Russias annexation of Crimea or their general hostility to Ukraine, but this comment from Fogh Rasmussen is beyond stupid and could very well have been something Clown Monckton could have blurted out.

  6. I traced the original source. It includes the following quote:

    “A state Department of Health spokesperson denied that employees were told not to return calls. Aimee Tysarczyk said all complaints related to shale gas drilling are sent to the Bureau of Epidemiology. Since 2011, she said, the agency has logged 51 complaints, but has found no link between drilling and illness.”

    Take it for what it’s worth.

  7. Not sure that the MD’s have access to the data, but perhaps testing would reveal some of the chemicals circulating in the blood of someone living near a fracking well. Seem like an easy law to challenge in court if it were enforced. Hard to image that a doctor would be arrested on such a charge.

    • I tend to doubt doctors will find “fracking chemicals” using a blood test of people living near a well. Those who are interested could offer to test the blood of individuals who worked right at the wells when they were being fracked. This would fall under the Occupational Hazard class, and I don´t recall reading about such complaints.

      In other words, in a real life scenario, if they can´t find chemicals in the fresh water, the air or the personnel´s blood who work at the site, then the case is fairly weak. I also tend to doubt they would allow such chemicals to leak and hurt nearby residents (not because they are so kind, but because they would dread lawsuits).

      I write about this issue trying to use logic, and I happen to know a bit about the technology (I lived in Texas for quite a few years and I own a property on top of a giant gas field). I would point at water disposal wells, the impact of water disposal, and the noise and air emissions from the well facilities (not from the well themselves) once the wells are being produced.

  8. > what we don’t expect

    You’re kidding, I hope.

    “Really
    the police try to protect
    the banks – and everything else
    is secondary ….”
    — D.A. Levy, 1968

  9. Note that many obscure chemicals aren’t observed by the usual blood tests. You have to know what to look for. And establishing health effects is brutally hard. Read “Toms River” to see how even egregious pollution situations can be difficult to pin down.

  10. Summing it up: financial systems are parasites on ecosystems.
    The financial system has grown more complicated over time as ecosystems are consumed, growing simpler and simpler.

    If we go on this way, in the end, all we’ll have is slime and bankers.
    But I repeat myself.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      “Slime and Bankers”
      — by Horatio Algeranon

      Slime and bankers
      Bankers and slime
      One fouls tankers
      One follows crime

      But I repeat what Hank said, with slight poetic embellishments

  11. Horatio Algeranon

    “Frack Water”

    — Horatio Algeranon’s parody of The Doobie Brothers “Black Water”

    Well, I drilled me a well and she’s ready for frackin’
    Old Marcellus, she’s callin’ my name
    Frackfish are jumpin’, that frack fluid pumpin’
    Frack water keep flowin’ on past just the same

    Ol’ frack water, keep on flowin’
    Monetary moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
    Ol’ frack water, keep on flowin’
    Monetary moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
    Ol’ frack water, keep on flowin’
    Monetary moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
    Yeah, keep on shinin’ your light
    Gonna make everything, please
    Obama gonna make everything all right
    And I ain’t got no worries
    But I am in a hurry to drill

    Well, if it frains, I don’t care
    Don’t make no difference to me
    Just lake that fluid that’s blowin’ up town
    Yeah, I’d like to frack some Pennsylvania land
    And dance a honky tonk
    And I’ll be buyin’ flamin’ frinks all ‘roun’

    Ol’ frack water, keep on flowin’
    Monetary moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
    Ol’ frack water, keep on flowin’
    Monetary moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
    Ol’ frack water, keep on flowin’
    Monetary moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me?
    Yeah, keep on shinin’ your light
    Gonna make everything, everything
    Gonna make everything all right
    And I ain’t got no worries
    But I am in a hurry to drill

    I’d like to frack some Pennsylvania land
    Please Obama come and take me by the hand
    By the hand, take me by the hand please Obama
    Come and dance with your ANGA all night long
    I’d like to frack some Pennsylvania land
    Please Obama come and take me by the hand
    I want to honky tonk, honky tonk, honky tonk
    With you all night long

    I’d like to frack some Pennsylvania land
    Please Obama come and take me by the hand
    By the hand, take me by the hand please Obama
    Come and dance with your ANGA all night long
    I’d like to frack some Pennsylvania land
    Please Obama come and take me by the hand
    I want to honky tonk, honky tonk, honky tonk
    With you all night long
    Please Obama come and take me by the hand
    By the hand, take me by the hand please Obama…

  12. Patrick M. Dennis, MD

    The gag rule is in court. The law is framed as a protection of industrial secrets: Pennsylvania physicians may, after a complex request procedure, obtain a list of chemicals their patients may have been exposed to, but must agree not to reveal the presumably proprietary information. The wording is not very clear as to whether that includes revealing it to the patients themselves. A physician sued, but was declared in lower court not to have standing since he had never actually requested any information from a fracking company. The PA Supreme Court found that he does indeed have standing and remanded the case back to the lower court to be heard on its merits.
    Physician gag orders regarding abortion counseling and questioning parents about the presence of guns in the home have failed to withstand judicial review.

  13. Horatio Algeranon

    “Fracking Fluids”
    –By Horatio Algeranon

    Our fluids are proprietary.
    For residents, they’re dietary,
    But won’t cause any ills
    Not even when they spills.

    You can not know what’s in ‘em
    Cuz EPA would ban ‘em,
    Usurp our right to drill
    With fluids that can kill.

  14. Dr. B. Gerard. PA resident

    Surprise, surprise. You get what you pay for. Repuglican governor. Repuglican house. Repuglican senate.

    • These are the same Republicans whose State House leader publicly declared that they had implemented a voter ID law to help insure that Mitt Romney was elected POTUS.

  15. I apologize right now for this off topic comment, but the thread I wished to pose a question is closed and I have no better solution.

    It is, with some urgency, about https://tamino.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/unnatural-catastrophes/ and specifically about the number-of-events graph from Munich RE depicted there.

    When I show this graph to others, be they climate revisionists or -realists, invariably it is responded to me along the line of “no wonder there’s increasing damage over time as population and property value increase”; graph dismissed.

    Except the vertical axis clearly is not in damages, but in raw count of events. And my discussion/debate partners seem to think people and property systematically don’t increase in quake or eruption prone zones (even though the majority of these are actually coastal, often very fertile areas).

    Any experiences with people, including prof. dr. scientists of different faculties, so terribly misreading this graph? It is baffling me and by today I’m getting angry..

    It is as if for many people knowledgeable even up to professional levels with climate change, global warming is still ‘just a theory’, nothing happening for real, nothing attributable to to date’s realized climate change et cetera. The meme ‘no single weather event can ever be attributed to climate change’; meantime, ‘Trenberth’s Law’ suggests not much extra drama, just a gradual 7% precip per degree temp rise etc.
    Apparently it results in a thinking modus resembling that of one who believes climate change is something for the distant future like more than a thousand years from now – no sense in looking at what is happening here and now in the fields – including weather events that imo could not even have happened without the level of climate change we are on at present, and brittle societies like those in the Levant collapsing from, among others, climate change triggers. I find it increasingly alarming.

    /cRR

    • I can feel your frustration, and there is also the shifting baseline syndrome working as well in the minds of people. There is a great video lecture on youtube about this on how we have changed the oceans and the size of fish we catch these days compared to some decades back. Mindless zombies as many are, they never realize that we are gradually turning the planet into Easter Island.

      The randomness of weather can sometimes create extremes even without climate change from AGW. But with AGW there is more energy in the system and we are basically “rolling more sixes” on the weather-dice, is the best explanation I can come up with. Its like a baseball player on steroids hitting more home runs (also another analogy many like to use) even though in any single game he might not be doing that. We are affecting the outcome – so the question is really, are we willing to accept the risks? Is our society built to handle 8 foot storm surges from events like Sandy, even if the event was random, the sea level rise from AGW still affected the outcome. Well more global warming = more sea level rise, that we can be certain of – who will pay the bill of moving cities and people?

      Its clear that the reason why damages are higher now is because our society has not been built for a changing climate from AGW – and now it is changing, and its affecting more and more people. Question is if people care unless its their homes being torn down by some freak event. Hope is that more people wake up the the realities of AGW.

      • Aaron Lewis

        There is more energy in the system, so it is a new game – more energy means that there are more dice being rolled, not that the dice are loaded.

        If the dice were just loaded, we would still see months that are no warmer than the average of the 20th century. However, we have not seen such a cold month in 29 years.

        We can no longer roll the low numbers (low average temperatures). If in 1950 the weather system was rolling 2 dice, then by 1997, it was rolling 3 dice and with next big El Nino,we are likely to add another die. The rules of the game have changed and the only metaphor that works is that we are rolling more dice. .And, we are adding another die every few years.

        The blizzard of 1948 was a 2-dice storm — It was very cold and dry. Today, there is more heat in the system and blizzards are not as cold, but carry much more moisture. Today we have 3-dice storms. They can be bigger, and sit in one place much longer, producing huge amounts of snow, and freezing rain, but they are not as cold and dry, More recent cattle killing blizzards buried the cattle in snow. We do not see the cold, dry storms anymore, because there is just no way to roll a “2” when one is rolling 3 dice.

        And while Chicago did have a spell of cold weather last winter to produce 4-months of record cold, it was really just record “cool” with more days of more snow. While the average was cooler than normal, there was a conspicuous absence of very cold days and/or consecutive cold days and./or consecutive hours below zero. And in terms of national weather, it was the 34th coldest winter. No, it has been a while since Mother Nature rolled snake eyes with her weather dice..

      • Very nice extension to the analogy, Aaron. This part is especially strong: “We do not see the cold, dry storms anymore, because there is just no way to roll a “2″ when one is rolling 3 dice.”

      • Horatio Algeranon

        “Climate Yahtzee”
        — by Horatio Algeranon

        We used to have the 2-dice storm
        But now we have the 3
        Extreme events are now the norm
        And more dies what we see

    • To those who responded on my rant, thank you.

      But I would like to highlight the thing that is really p*ssing me off. I mean the unbelievable misreading of that graph’s vertical axis by all and sundry – including climate realists that is those ‘who are on our side’.

      Any experiences with this phenomenon?

  16. So in Tamino’s estimation, what is the case against fracking? I don’t follow the subject too closely, but in my preliminary investigations, an anti-fracker showed me a list of purported cases of fracking causing illnesses and animal deaths. I followed up on many of them and found that it was never actually concluded that it was the fault of fracking, and yet this was the only evidence I was given.

    Some of the most reasonable people I know are against fracking, but I haven’t yet seen anything myself to condemn it. Would anyone care to provide some resources for me?

    [Response: I think you should read the article on ClimateProgress.

    I also suggest that the fact that lawsuits have been settled in favor of the plaintiffs is evidence. The fact that those lawsuits always seem to include a gag order (industry is willing to pay big money to keep people quiet) is evidence. The fact that industry has lobbied so hard to keep their chemical mixture secret is evidence (and I don’t believe their story about being motivated to protect industrial secrets). We deserve to know.

    And: the link between wastewater injection and earthquakes is undeniable, the link between fracking itself and earthquakes is gathering evidence.]

    • E. A. Bartholomew

      I’m just not convinced by interpreting the actions of government agencies and lawyers. I don’t find the article in question particularly convincing of foul play considering the employees were simply told to redirect the calls to the agency that has jurisdiction over fracking. It could just as easily be explained by employees who have an irrational bias against fracking creating drama.

      I’m more interested in hearing about the scientific case against fracking. At your suggestion, I looked into the link between wastewater injection and earthquakes, and the best-researched case I found was about Prague, Oklahoma: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2013JB010612/abstract

      It appears undeniable that fracking caused these earthquakes. However, it seems to me that this was a result of fracking too close to a fault. I’ve read in the past that fracking lacks a lot of regulations that would preclude many of the problems people are complaining about. Why don’t we simply push for better regulations and for fracking a safe distance from faults and residences instead of abandoning it completely?

      [Response: You asked for evidence. The actions of government agencies and lawyers, and mainly of industry, are evidence. If you don’t regard that as convincing, fine — but don’t pretend it’s not evidence.

      And you haven’t even mentioned the lawsuits which were settled in favor of plaintiffs. That’s powerful evidence, and the fact that they seek so hard to impose gag orders argues strongly against the idea that the fracking chemicals are safe.

      As for direct evidence that the chemicals used in fracking aren’t safe, I can’t give you that because industry refuses to disclose what the chemicals are.

      Referring to “government agencies and lawyers” is a bit misleading. The principal actor is industry, lawyers are their agents and government is their target. It’s the industry which insists on keeping secret the very chemicals they’re putting into the water which they then put into the ground. If you think corporations give public safety anywhere near the priority it deserves on moral grounds, and that they wouldn’t play dangerous games with the lives and health of ordinary people in order to make more profit, I’d say you’re naive. Instead of insisting on *proof* that it’s dangerous, I’d insist on at least some persuasive *evidence* that it isn’t.

      Perhaps we agree that the existing evidence isn’t strong enough to state categorically fracking cannot be done safely. But the existing evidence is more than strong enough to suggest that it is not at present being done safely, with a high enough probability to justify forcing industry to disclose the information we need to make find out.]

      • I agree entirely with your last paragraph. I’ve read that enhanced geothermal uses similar practices but has a lot more regulations—it shouldn’t be too hard to apply the same regulations to fracking. The fact that they haven’t yet is damning. I also generally believe that using natural gas and biofuels is ridiculous, and we should cut right to the chase and use renewables. This report on geothermal potential from MIT in 2006 is just incredible. http://mitei.mit.edu/publications/reports-studies/future-geothermal-energy

        The rest strikes me as speculation and jumping to conclusions based on ideology—ideology I agree with but don’t use to justify condemning something like this. I distrust corporations and take their actions with a grain silo of salt, but I refuse to speculate. We shouldn’t assume the worst just because we’re looking for a company to fit the pattern of crony capitalism. I believe in adherence to factual justification for our beliefs. There are other explanations than the ones you’ve offered for why the industry has acted as it has. For example, gag orders? Maybe they just realized they were wrong.

    • While Tamino has an excellent reply to the fracking chemicals issue, I already feel fracking is a bad idea since its basically the same as squeezing out the last bit from the toothpaste tube. In other words its a lost game already and really only prolongs our dependency on fossil fuels. All the investments being made today into new fossil fuel ventures (including drilling in the Arctic) are better spent at both establishing new energy sources and reducing our energy needs. Both of these are complicated problems, potentially disruptive to civilization as we know it – but we need to face them anyway when that last bit of toothpaste has been squeezed out. It’s clear that the only ones who gain from continues fossil fuel is the industries themselves, even though with their short term thinking they are not really seeing that in time it will hurt them (and their children) too.

      Also remember we already have more discovered reserves than we can safely burn if we hope to keep us under 2C warming. Burning all our current known reserves will be catastrophical as it is, so why look for more?

      • I agree with everything you said, especially the last paragraph—never thought of it that way. That doesn’t mean we should just make stuff up and jump to conclusions about fracking or believe whatever we’re told just because it fits the pattern we expect to see.

        Another example—how about the stories that Kim Jong-Un fed his uncle to dogs or demanded that everyone get the same haircut as him? The dude is a terrible person, and people believed the stories because they fit the pattern, but they were bullshit. This is what I’m saying about being faithful to the truth regardless of our political biases. Give up on that, and we’ll be rewriting history based on our opinions.

      • Horatio Algeranon

        “Toothpaste Fracking”
        — by Horatio Algeranon

        Squeezing out the toothpaste
        To get that last wee bit
        I have found that frack waste
        Works quite well for it

      • Most who don’t accept the urgency of AGW have not realized how +2C warming will affect civilization. I believe Michael Mann had a recent article about “the closing window” to illustrate just how far away we are from keeping below +2C. The problem is that while Kyoto agreements were signed by many and a lot of state leaders agree its a problem, CO2 emissions are still rising, not stalling, and certainly not lowering. So when does it at least rise linearly, and when does it shift to an actual reduction and in time turn negative? I think Mann has a very valid point in that we will very likely blow past +2C warming and we have to deal with policies trying to keep it from going to +4C and believe me, civilization as we know it cannot sustain an average temperature rise of +4C just as it couldn’t sustain a -4C average temperature reduction (which basically is very close to a new ice age).

        We would have to know some more of why you dont think a +2C warming world isnt harmful for us, we are seeing some serious signs of change just from +1C warming already, and every El Nino year turns exceptionally distruptive as new records are broken in both heat waves, precipitation events as well as serious drought.

      • I think you replied to the wrong person, John. I wasn’t talking about global warming.

  17. Horatio Algeranon

    “Spit frack and relax”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    You’re only having
    A “frack attack”
    Where faucets spout
    Like a flaming stack

    Where wells ain’t swell
    As you can tell
    With water hell
    To taste and smell.

    But gas is good
    And more is best
    Spit frack and relax
    And give it a rest.

  18. Horatio Algeranon

    This ruling would seem to be very significant because it means towns (at least in NY) are free to make their own decision about whether to allow fracking within their boundaries.

    What I find most disturbing about the whole fracking issue (other than gas companies hiding information and making unproven claims about emissions and safety that are not backed up with facts) is that the gas companies have been steamrolling people wherever they go, with shear force when simple buyouts don’t work.

    I know Dryden and the surrounding areas well, having grown up in Ithaca, (just down the road) and I say “Well done” to the residents of Dryden, who have done something that is truly remarkable: beaten back a mammoth, well-funded fossil fuel lobby with simple “people power.”

    This is likely to have repercussions across NY if not across the country.

    What is perhaps most interesting about Dryden is that it is a small, fairly conservative farming community, but both Democrats and Republicans were able to come together to protect their community.

    One thing we too often forget is that we “ordinary” folks (Democrats and Republicans alike) have far more in common with each other (ie, with our neighbors and others in our communities) than we have with the fossil fuel interests, or even with many of our “leaders” in Washington, who are often benefiting handsomely from those lobbies and have done very little to protect our interests or those of our children and grandchildren on fracking, Keystone and other climate-related issues.

    There is a reason why “divide and conquer’ has long been a preferred method of the powerful: when we set aside our minor differences and band together for what is truly important, we can overcome even the richest, most well-connected interests.

    “The Money Pit”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    Keep ’em pitted against each other
    R v. D and sister v. brother
    That way they won’t ever see
    That the game is fixed for fee.