By Erin Sherbert
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By Leif Haven
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Needless to say, it ruled that the EPA was wrong, and asserted that the gas naturally occurred in the water. This caused the feds to backpedal as well.
In the end, Lipsky not only lost his case, but Range countersued him, claiming that he was part of a conspiracy to defame the company by providing a "misleading" video and lying to the press. Wilson was named as a co-conspirator.
"It's such bullshit," she says. "All [Lipsky] did is send me a video and it was over a month after the EPA made their ruling. Like most of the blog, I'm just linking to stuff that's already out there. This is how insane and aggressive this company is. ... Industry can go on and say never once has there been a case where it has been proven, blah, blah, blah. But on the ground, we know better. We know that when they frack, our water gets contaminated."
Where the science of fracking is concerned, Cornell engineer Tony Ingraffea and geologist Terry Engelder agree on almost everything except this: "Tony thinks fracking should stop and I don't," says Engelder, the Penn State geologist credited with discovering the state's potential for fracking. "I believe that economic health has to come before environmental health is worked out. Tony is arguing for environmental health at any cost."
In 2006, Dominion Exploration and Production contacted Engelder, asking whether extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, which runs from Ohio to Maryland, would be worth its time. Engelder's calculations revealed that nearly 50 trillion cubic feet of fuel lay beneath the ground, making it the largest deposit in the country. "I kept looking at that number, thinking to myself, 'Merry Christmas, America,'" Engelder says.
But almost as soon as the fracking boom began in Pennsylvania, so did the disasters. The worst occurred in Dimock, a small town of 1,400 residents. In 2008, Cabot Oil & Gas began leasing land from residents. Even those who refused were told that gas would be extracted from under their land anyway, since Pennsylvania law allowed for drillers to capture gas from nearby properties.
Soon, residents complained that their water had turned brown. Nearby creeks ran bright red with contaminates. Families reported that their children were passing out in the shower. Livestock was dying.
Nearly 8,000 gallons of Halliburton-made "fracking fluid" leaked from faulty supply pipes, making its way into streams and killing off fish.
Though Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection fined Cabot $360,000 for contaminating Dimock's water and failing to fix leaks, the federal EPA ruled in May that the town's drinking water was safe. The state, meanwhile, continues to insist that fracking isn't hazardous: "There has never been any evidence of fracking ever causing direct contamination of fresh groundwater in Pennsylvania or anywhere else," the DEP's Scott Perry once announced.
But while environmental regulators see no evil, Ingraffea is just as vigorous in warning of the dangers. "Four years later, the industry is still trying to figure out what to do with their crap," he says. "Bad things happened. And bad things continue to happen."
His biggest beef is with the industry's misinformation campaign. Despite all evidence to the contrary, gas companies claim that it's impossible for fracking fluid to come in contact with drinking water.
"They are simply telling downright lies because they think people are stupid, but this is really street-smart stuff," he says.
One of Ingraffea's studies debunked the natural gas industry's claims of being green. Since fracking wells and holding tanks leak up to a trillion cubic feet of methane gas into the atmosphere each year, their greenhouse effects can cause more pollution than burning coal.
The industry responded as it usually does — by paying handsomely to have his findings rebutted.
One major study by MIT — "The Future of Natural Gas" — was funded by the American Clean Skies Foundation. The president of that group? None other than Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the second-largest producer of natural gas.
Ingraffea sees it as part of a pattern of the industry buying off the country's most prestigious universities, "like MIT, to do pseudo-science."
Meanwhile, the Natural Gas Alliance, an industry lobbying group, shelled out $80 million to Hill and Knowlton Strategies, the same PR firm used by Big Tobacco to argue there was no link between smoking and cancer.
"The whole goal is to put a little seed of doubt in people's minds," Ingraffea says. "And for those who believe that they can get rich from leasing their land, there is a willing suspension of disbelief. But the real question is: How many bad things can go wrong right in front of your eyes before you finally accept the truth that this stuff is nasty and extremely dangerous?"
While the gas industry is busy paying scientists and politicians to minimize the risks of fracking, it's also greatly exaggerating its economic potential.
Like most opponents, Deborah Rogers didn't pay much attention to the boom until Chesapeake was about to drill a well just 100 feet from her property. After working in finance for years, she quit her job in 2003 to open an artisanal cheesemaking operation on land she'd inherited in Fort Worth.