Myths in the Public Relations Messages from the Gas Industry

by Duane Nichols on December 20, 2011

Prof. Anthony Ingraffea

Four myths frequently reported by the gas industry were recently described by Professor Anthony Ingraffea, who is a Faculty Fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University:

Myth 1. Fracking is a 60-year-old, safe, well proven technology – -

Yes, fracking is 60 years old. But using this shorthand obscures the truth that what’s at issue here isn’t really just fracking. It’s the entire process of coaxing gas from shale using high-volume, slickwater fracking with long laterals from clustered, multi-well pads. Used together, they form a new process, having been introduced about five six years ago, the jury is still very much out on its safety.

Myth 2. Fluid migration from faulty wells is rare – - -

Fluid migration is not rare. For example, industry researchers Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration. They found that about 12 per cent of newer wells leaked, considerably more than older wells. Also, EPA found benzene, methane and chemicals in water-monitoring wells in Pavilion, Wyoming.

Myth 3. The use of clustered, multi-well drilling pads reduces surface impacts – - -

Such pad sites are large and growing, up to 10 acres or more. Newer sites, in Canada, are bigger than 50 acres, and each will leave behind clusters of wellheads and holding tanks for decades. Cluster drilling facilitates and prolongs intense industrialization and leaves a larger, more concentrated, and very long-term footprint, not a smaller and shorter one.

Myth 4. Natural gas is a “clean” fossil fuel – - -

The newest evidence here is discouraging. NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in Science, shows that methane (i.e. natural gas) is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon, and 33 times more powerful over a century. Unfortunately, unconventional gas drilling techniques actually leak more methane than conventional ones. Leakage happens routinely during regular drilling, fracking and flowback operations, liquid unloading, processing, and along pipelines and at storage facilities.

Other myths were also mentioned in the article: “There are plenty of other myths swirling around this debate which require analysis: local job-creation versus the reality of imported expertise from Oklahoma and Texas; development of a home-grown resource versus selling gas on the world markets; revitalized, vibrant local economies versus boom-and-bust syndromes of strangled small business investment and profits sent to Norway or China; natural gas as a short-term bridge fuel to renewables, versus an impediment to developing the long-term sustainable energy future the world so desperately needs.”

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