The study proposes that New York switch to power produced 10% by onshore wind, 40% offshore wind, 10% concentrated solar, 10% solar-PV plants, 6% residential rooftop PV, 12% commercial/government PV, 5% geothermal, 1% tidal, and 5½% hydroelectric.
Natural gas (methane), touted by industry as a “bridge” fuel to renewable energy and now widely debunked as a “gangplank” off the climate precipice, was excluded as a recommended source for future energy. Due to the effects of methane and pollutants that cause air pollution, it is not a near-term “low” greenhouse alternative, either in absolute terms or relative to coal.
The study compares the generation and transmission costs of wind, water, and solar (WWS), to those of fossil and nuclear energy sources including their externalities.
Jacobson’s team asserts that a complete transition to WWS would result in no associated environmental externalities. No externalities in terms of bronchitis, heart disease, or asthma resulting from particulate matter and ozone in the air. And none in terms of coastline loss, agricultural and fish losses, human heat stress mortality, increases in severe weather, or air pollution, all of which come from global warming.
Externalities are key. The study estimates annually averaged premature mortalities from particulate matter in New York at: 820 (low estimate), 3260 (medium estimate), 6480 (high estimate). Estimates of premature mortalities from ozone are: 356 (low), 713 (medium), 1070 (high).
Michigan’s frack attack required by law
For 75 years Michigan’s oil and gas industry has enjoyed special-interest protection, written into the state law. The law requires the State to “foster the development of the [oil-gas] industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of [oil and gas].” Requiring maximized production as a goal of of DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals means requiring it to maximize Michigan’s contribution to air pollution and global warming.
Fracking for natural gas is not part of our future. Depicted here are the locations for all 53 horizontal frack wells already permitted in Michigan.
The industry is just getting started in Michigan, plunking down exploratory wells throughout the Lower Peninsula, with 53 wells permitted already over the past three years. A network of thousands of wells across the Michigan landscape would change our state–and planet–forever, and not for the better.
Michigan’s contribution to global warming and planetary destruction
What exactly is Michigan’s contribution to the world crisis we now face? The question will be answered for every state later this week at The Solutions Project website.
But on Monday Jacobson provided Ban Michigan Fracking with a Michigan preview:
Current air pollution premature mortalities per year in Michigan: 1600 (range of 530-2940).
Current air pollution health costs in Michigan: $14.7 billion/year (range of $4.8-26.7 billion/year).
Current health cost as % of state GDP: 3.9% (range of 1.3%-7.2%).
Year 2050 costs to the US due to Michigan emissions: $2.1 billion/year.
Year 2050 costs to the world due to Michigan emissions: $21.4 billion/year.
A portion of The Solutions Project infographic for the state of Michigan.
On February 14, The Solutions Project went live showing specific roadmaps for every state, including Michigan, to transition all energy sources to wind, water, and solar by 2050 using existing technologies. Under The Solutions Project plan, fuel costs would drop to zero and healthcare costs and premature air-pollution mortalities would diminish significantly, as detailed for every state.
What are some of the benefits of switching to alternatives?
Year 2050 electricity cost savings/year due to converting to WWS in Michigan: $34 billion/year.
Year 2050 electricity cost savings/person/year due to converting to WWS in Michigan: $2800 /person/year.
Year 2050 total electricity + health + climate cost savings: $69.7 billion/year (range of $59.8-81.7 billion/year).
Year 2050 total electricity + health + climate cost savings/person: $5840/person/year (range of $5000-6800/person/year).
The study’s conclusion recommends a number of first steps toward NY’s conversion to WWS, rather than natural gas. The first step in Michigan: Ban horizontal fracking.
Get involved in the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ballot initiative campaign, http://letsbanfracking.org . It will end the requirement that Michigan foster the gas industry, and end the state’s horizontal fracking.
Michigan’s frack industry: now at 53 high-volume frack wells
The People: 70,000 voters sign ballot initiative to ban fracking
By LuAnne Kozma
While the horizontal frack industry in Michigan grew by 23 wells in the past year, and pushed into new areas of the state, residents fought back in ambitious and far-reaching efforts to ban horizontal fracking and frack wastes statewide and a few decisions to curtail it locally.
The industry expanded to southerly counties in the Lower Peninsula. The current totals as of November 25, 2013 are: 53 high-volume, horizontal frack permitted wells in 18 counties: Antrim (1),* Cheboygan (2), Clare (1), Crawford (1), Gladwin (2), Hillsdale (6), Ionia (1), Kalkaska (22), Livingston (1), Midland (1), Missaukee (4), Montmorency (1), Muskegon (1), Oceana (2), Ogemaw (1), Osceola (1), Roscommon (2), Sanilac (3). Five applications are pending in 2 counties: Antrim (2) and Kalkaska (3).
*Antrim's Mancelona 1-28 HD1 frack well fell off the DEQ's list and into a paperwork black hole, its permit "terminated" and no longer considered "active" ... but the site clear-cut in the state forest still exits, the well drilled. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.
Thanks to grassroots activists and a few elected officials, the ban fracking movement and public awareness increased in every way. Meetings across the state reached people already interested in the issue.
Ban Michigan Fracking organized people to come to the state capitol in Lansing at the January 2013 state of the state address.
Corinne Turner, activist from Barry County in summer 2013, collecting signatures.
These face-to-face exchanges were conducted primarily by a volunteer force of over 500. Many people learned about the environmental harms of fracking—or even the word “fracking”– for the very first time. This was not an online petition that people could do from their computers or phones.
While the required number of signatures was 258,088 during the six-months from April to October, the Committee will begin a new signature-gathering phase when it raises enough funds. (Donate on LetsBanFracking.org) That simple fact—that the DEQ which is thought to “protect the environment” is actually expected to foster and favor the gas and oil industry–is a showstopper. DEQ continues to go around the state with its “Environmental” title while actually it is the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals doing the talking.
People are also shocked to discover, when it ever is revealed at a public meeting at all, that the Department of Environmental Quality Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals also receives a 6.6% severance tax on oil and a 5% severance tax on gas produced in the state—in effect in business partnership with the oil and gas industry. It is the only part of the state’s environmental protection agency that is funded by the industry it regulates. To our knowledge, no horizontal high-volume frack well permits have ever been denied.
Ban Michigan Fracking learned in January that the 40,000 gallons of frack flowback from Encana's Excelsior wells – approved by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and spread on northern Michigan roads in 2012 – were much more hazardous than expected. The deadly chemical AI-2 containing a secret ingredient was put in a tourist campground on Lake Huron by the Mackinac Bridge. A separate flowback sample from the same complex tested the materials as radioactive. See entire story here.
In February, Ban Michigan Fracking broke the blockbuster news (“Michigan’s 21 Million Gallon Frack Job”) that the Michigan frackers were using more water per well than any other frack well in the nation–20 to 30 million gallons, not the “5 to 8 million gallon” figure regularly being used to describe this new kind of fracking. We used actual industry records. The truth won out and the media and the DEQ started using the new numbers.
The approximately 60 horizontal frack wells permitted or pending in Michigan are poised to use as much water to frack than all 12,000 Antrim wells drilled in Michigan over the past decades combined.* Just five of Encana’s new wells are projected to use more than 132 million gallons. When adding up the rest, estimates go past 577 million. (*Assuming 12,000 Antrim wells used 50,000 gallons per well according to DEQ, which totals 600 million gallons of water). Clearly the new type of fracking in Michigan is water intensive beyond anyone’s imagination.
Oakland County Water Commissioner Jim Nash started hosting meetings in communities throughout Oakland on the subject of fracking with speakers from state agencies as well as knowledgeable grassroots anti-frack activists. One speaker, Joe Curry, a 30-year water well driller and member of the Michigan Groundwater Association from Holly, debunked the DEQ’s continuing erroneous narrative (see the video below) that fracking’s been going on in Michigan for 60 years and that there have been 12,000 wells and no cases of contaminations in Michigan. Audiences attending challenged the DEQ speakers who presented inaccurate information. For the DEQ/Curry point/counterpoint, see this video by Ferndale 115.
Dr. Christopher Grobbel also spoke to groups around the state, sharing his specialized knowledge of the actual contamination record of Michigan’s oil and gas industry. Grobbel once worked for the DEQ compiling its list of contaminated sites. He has since worked on the cleanups and as an expert witness in numerous lawsuits brought by landowners who have had oil/gas spills and contaminations on their property. Grobbel points out that since 1995, the DEQ no longer keeps track of contaminations publicly, making it difficult for the public to know the record except through expensive Freedom of Information Act requests or lawsuits. Grobbel’s entire presentation is available HERE.
Richard Heinberg's 2013 book "Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future" mentions Ban Michigan Fracking as part of the "massive grassroots backlash against fracking."
As if miffed that public opinion was turning against them at the forums and presentations, the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (the department responsible for leasing state-owned mineral rights on both public and private land) held public meetings of their own in Troy, Muskegon, and Traverse City. The tactic backfired. Audiences now savvy to the recognizable misleading claims called the DEQ on them, holding up placards stating “B.S.” every time state officials uttered one at the Musekgon meeting. In Traverse City, Ban Michigan Fracking submitted 11 written questions. The speakers refused to answer any. A contingent of armed conservation officers monitored the audiences inside at each, and police officers were present outside the meeting locations.
Occupy Muskegon caught this moment at the DEQ/DNR meeting in Muskegon when the audience burst into laughter when the Oil, Gas and Minerals staffer stated that companies are required to clean up contaminations. Note the heavy armed guard presence behind the speakers:
Indeed during this time, public opinion was turning against the frackers. Pew Research Centerissued findings from its survey, conducted in March and September 2013, that more Americans (49%) oppose increased use of fracking than favor it (44%). “Since March, opposition to increased fracking has grown significantly across most regions and demographic groups,” the Center reported. Back in March, support for fracking exceeded opposition by 10 points (48 to 38%). The biggest shift in public opinion occurred in the Midwest where those opposed to fracking grew 16 points from 32% to 48%. DEQ Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals was feeling the heat of that shift.
In May the DNR held one of its two annual auctions of state-owned oil and gas lease rights, leasing out 37,000+ acres in 17 Michigan counties. Activists attended in protest. While none were arrested, some were escorted out of the auction by conservation officers while the officers were asked “What are you conserving?”
As fracking continued, the waste and water issues mounted. In June, local residents in Kalkaska living near frack wells experienced water well problems. Corinne Turner described the plight of these families and their lack of good water, Halliburton’s frac sand blowing through the air, covering everything in sight, and high noise levels in an insightful letter to the editor, Viewpoint: Fracking in Kalkaska should serve as warning for southwest Michigan. Encana ran out of water on the job site at the Westerman well and turned to local communities to purchase water.
Then a contamination incident happened, and industry was caught in the act. Encana’s subcontractor Team Services applied three tanker trucks full of oil and gas industrial waste onto roads in Benzie County in July, witnessed by a local organic farmer who happens to be a former oil and gas industry worker, familiar with the smell of petroleum waste. His nostrils burned even a day later. After the residents informed the county road commission and obtained test results, and we made some calls to DEQ, Ban Michigan Fracking broke the news.
Fewins Road still showing the darkened contaminated areas from the dumping of toxic "brine" in Benzie County in 2013. Photo courtesy of Bryan Black.
The tests showed benzene levels were 28 times higher, and toluene 1,000 times higher than legal limits. DEQ’s “investigator” was first told of the fact that he had an investigation to do by BMF. Days later, the local newspaper, Traverse City Record-Eagle was all over it and followed the story, eventually publishing an editorial chastising the DEQ. Team Services was told by DEQ to do better and tell the agency what they did. The company was not fined.
Shortly thereafter, Encana was cited, but not fined, for spilling 300 to 400 gallons of frack fluid at a well site in a separate incident. That slap on the wrist was front page news in Traverse City.
In fall 2013, a new horizontal frack well (Sherwood) was approved and drilled near Fowlerville in Livingston County, only 30 miles from Lansing, the state capitol, shaking things up further for residents in the more populated southern counties of Michigan.
Sherwood well in Livingston County. Photo courtesy of Paul Kato.
New local groups formed in 2013, such as Don’t Frack West Michigan in the Muskegon area, Manistee Water Guardians, and Fowlerville Fracking. Residents in Lenawee County follow the oil and gas industry’s drilling operations in Adrian on a blog as do Washtenaw county residents in Saline and Lodi. The conventional oil wells (over 40) in the Irish Hills in Jackson and Lenawee Counties, where concerned residents held many meetings in 2012, may become another high-volume frack area once the industry goes after the Collingwood/Utical shale under the formations currently being drilled. Recently two Class II injection wells were approved by EPA in Norvell Township, Jackson County to handle all the wastes produced by West Bay, despite local opposition.
Fowlerville area residents are up in arms about the Sherwood well. They held numerous informational meetings, demanding details from the DEQ and elected officials, and are gathering more interest among neighboring communities on how to prevent the next ones that are sure to come.
Livingston County residents protested the Sherwood horizontal frack well in November in downtown Fowlerville. Photo courtesy of Andrea Rude McKenzie
The group Food and Water Watch worked on an ordinance for Ann Arbor and organized a meeting of local organizations. The Michigan Sierra Club held informational meetings around the state and stayed out of the local ordinance effort. While some of its members worked on the ballot initiative campaign, its leadership remained firmly against a ban and instead worked for regulations on the frack industry, using rhetoric about making the process “safe” and “proper disposal.”
Wastes from horizontal drilling and fracking accumulated throughout 2013 in epic proportions compared to conventional drilling. Like other states, Michigan is full of toxic injection wells. It has 1,460 Class II injection wells used specifically for oil and gas wastes.
One of the many injection wells used to dispose of horizontal frack wastes in Michigan, the Wlosinski #2-27 SWD injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.
The millions of gallons of toxic waste that is the water-sand-chemical soup that gets pumped down the frack well partly comes up (for disposal elsewhere) and some of it stays below in the frack well itself, creating a toxic injection well site at each and every horizontal frack wellhead.
From EPA website 1/11/14.
In addition to liquid waste, the drill cuttings and drilling muds used at each frack well site are also toxic wastes. These are disposed of on site in large pits, sometimes dug beneath the water table (for example, see the Schick 1-7 HD well permit, Clare County), solidified on site or trucked off to local landfills such as the Crowl Solid Waste Disposal landfill in Gladwin and the Waters Landfill in Frederic. No testing is done for radioactivity.
Lawsuits started up against the industry, the Michigan Public Service Commission, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals, and the federal Bureau of Land Management:
Ban Michigan Fracking’s Ellis Boal started a case for Crawford county residents in March to stop Encana gathering lines connecting two frack wells to a pipeline. The public service commission denied their claim without considering the environmental consequences and the plaintiffs are appealing.
Boal also sued for a Kalkaska resident, to stop 13 huge Encana wells permitted by the DEQ in the state forest. The company was trying to put several wells too close together, possibly inducing interference between the wells. In October, a judge enjoined them, dependent upon the plaintiff submitting an administrative appeal under part 12 of DEQ rules. See: Judge Stops US Record Frack Wells in Michigan.
A suit for two Gladwin County residents to compel the DEQ to stop importing the “Halliburton loophole” into Michigan law and treat frack wells under the rules for injection wells is pending in the Michigan court of appeals.
A couple in Allegan County brought suit against the US Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management. claiming that the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and using a flawed environmental assessment. The suit seeks to set aside the leasing out of the Allegan State Game Area for gas and oil drilling.
Michigan Land, Air, Water Defense, a local group in Barry and Allegan counties, sued in 2012 challenging the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ approval of mineral rights leases in state game areas, and received a judge’s ruling in 2013 dismissing part of the case and transferring the rest to a different judge.
In general these well-meaning suits try to get some short-term or other results, such as sparing certain places from fracking or temporarily halting operations. But, in the main, they concede the most important point to industry, continued permission to drill and frack.
In response to public concern over Michigan’s fracking and offensives to ban horizontal fracking, the governor got a university behind him. Snyder hailed a blue ribbon committee study to be conducted by the University of Michigan’s Graham Institute. The study’s steering committee consists of gas and oil industry representatives, DEQ Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals staff and two non profit organizations, Michigan Environmental Council and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. Both NGO’s are publicly pro-gas, anti-ban (or even moratorium) and state they want “seats at the table” with DEQ. The study is one of those tables. At its March press conference in which the lead investigators stated the study was to gather information to “minimize negative impacts,” it was clear that their efforts would not consider banning fracking, but rather, enable it. In April the U of M held a public presentation it called “Fractopia Town Hall” featuring a speaker from the gas industry-PR group Energy in Depth, an Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals regulator, an engineering professor who led one of the technical reports, and the pro-”regulated fracking” Michigan Environmental Council.
Michigan Chamber of Commerce placed over 70 of these billboards in an attempt to defeat the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan's ballot initiative. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.
In addition to this governmental, academic and NGO push-back to the ban fracking movement, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce launched a frontal attack with a political campaign of its own in an attempt to defeat the ballot initiative. Using its already formed ballot question committee called PAC II, the Chamber raised over $427,000 mainly from gas and oil companies for a series of press releases and website aimed at the Committee, calling the ballot proposal “dangerous” and the Committee’s 500 volunteers—and we suppose all the 70,000 voters who signed it–”extremists.” To buttress its view that gas is safe and “environmentally friendly,” the Chamber’s anti-ballot initiative campaign put 70+ billboards around the state.
Michigan residents take ban fracking message to new heights in September over a busy highway overpass:
In the midst of the citizen-led ballot initiative for a legislative ban, Michigan House Democrats rolled out a set of bills in the summer to provide more regulations for the frackers and deflect criticism that they are not doing anything about fracking. The bills do not seek to ban fracking and they did not get out of committee. In the push for “tougher regulations” this is often a ploy by so-called environmental groups who want a “seat at the table” to make deals or “common sense reforms” rather than trying to protect the public from the greater harms of fracking by stopping its practice. Some of the lawmakers promoting the bills also spoke favorably about the gas and oil industry and do not want to interfere with their operations. The bills are:
HB 4899 for public hearings and comments for frack permits.
HB 4900 for chemical disclosure.
HB 4901 for study of fracking impacts.
HB 4902 for presumption of fracker liability if chemicals or tracers are found in nearby water.
HB 4903 for water withdrawal assessment tool.
HB 4904 for county/township regulation of frack wells.
HB 4905 for prohibition of frack flowback on roads for dust suppression.
HB 4906 for increasing setback requirements to 1000 feet.
One of seven Technical Reports by University of Michigan--steered by the gas industry.
The University of Michigan’s study finally came out in September. Its seven technical reports refused to acknowledge the constitutional right that Michigan voters have to ballot initiative when describing what Michiganders can do to make policy or legal decisions on the issue of fracking. The brief mention of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ballot initiative was erroneously referred to by its 2012 effort, not its 2013 legislative initiative, and referenced our website, not the Committee’s. (It was corrected later). Two of the study’s steering committee members donated funds to the Michigan Chamber’s campaign against the ballot initiative. None of them donated money for the ballot initiative. See our earlier story here. We recommend reading the reports with scrutiny.
The DNR held its fall auction in October, leasing out state-owned oil and gas mineral rights to 11,000+ acres in 12 Michigan counties, including Au Sable River’s “Holy Waters.” Alarmed, mainstream groups lobbied the agency. DNR reversed itself, prohibiting drilling from the surface of the “Holy Waters” area but allowing drilling underneath. Michigan Environmental Council lauded the decision, saying some areas are more worthy of being frack-free.
Near the end of the year, the Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals announced new proposed administrative regulations regarding water, monitoring, reporting, and chemicals. Privy to a draft, Sierra Club hailed the new rules as “baby steps in the right direction.” The State’s October announcement omitted mention of changes eliminating requirements for exceptional spacing and interference, and the new ability of frackers to drill and frack first and then force mineral rights holders into a compulsory pool. In November DEQ revealed the language on its website. This means the frackers can build the gallows first, then hold the trial: they can drill and frack, and after the damage is done, force the pooling of the mineral owners, whether they leased their lands to the gas and oil companies, or not.
2014 is shaping up to be a time for the DEQ Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals and their many enablers to try to pacify opposition and corral Michiganders into accepting more “regulated fracking” while they continue to foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions. But the ban fracking movement will grow and raise ever-increasing awareness. Unfortunately, a lot of Michigan residents are going to suffer from the impacts of more Michigan horizontal fracking, the enormous amount of frack wastes it generates, depleted water supplies, and the industrialization of their communities to their health, their environment, their property and their livelihoods until we ban the practice. With 70,000 voters with us for a ban…. we are gaining momentum.
Concerned Michigan residents in Kalkaska protesting the horizontal frack wells in the epicenter of Michigan's fracking boom, October 2013. Photo courtesy of Manistee Water Guardians.
(Updated 1/19/14: Respectmyplanet.org, a new database website emerged with photos of Michigan deep frack sites and data from the DEQ. It withdrew its support for a ban on fracking clarifying that its mission is to ”educate the public about locations of environmental concern and education about Hydrogen as a clean renewable fuel source.” It states on a video on its website fracking can contaminate water “if not done properly.”
Ban Michigan Fracking is pleased to co-host a free screening of the film Gasland Part II,with special guest filmmaker Josh Fox who will join us for the evening for an question and answer session after the showing.
There are no reserve tickets. Please come early and line up outside the theatre. First come, first serve, but Committee to Ban Fracking circulators will have a reserve section up front.
Donations to Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, the ballot initiative, will be welcome at the door, and online at: www.letsbanfracking.org.
For more information contact LuAnne Kozma: 231-944-8750
Graph from the Pew Research Center report, September 4-8, 2013.
No wonder the industry is sweating it.
The more people learn about fracking, the more they oppose it. And today, more Americans (49%) oppose increased use of fracking than favor it (44%). That was just one of the findings released by the Pew Research Center, who conducted polls in March 2013 and September 2013. “Since March, opposition to increased fracking has grown significantly across most regions and demographic groups,” the Center reported. Back in March, support for fracking exceeded opposition by 10 points (48 to 38%).
Biggest increase in opposition to fracking is in the Midwest
The most significant finding to us at Ban Michigan Fracking is that in the Midwest 32 % opposed fracking, and that rose 16 points to now 48% of Midwest people opposing fracking in September 2013, (while 47% favor it). That is a huge shift in public opinion.
On-the-ground activism is making a difference
In the same six-month period, hundreds of volunteers with Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan have been throughout the state, collecting signatures from Michigan voters on ballot initiative petitions to ban fracking and frack wastes. At all meetings held by the DEQ or DNR, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan petitioners were there, clipboards in hand. At county fairs, farmers markets, art festivals, musical concerts, sporting events, picnics, and parades, the Committee to Ban Fracking has taken the ban message and the direct democracy approach to banning fracking. Word seems to be getting out.
The University of Michigan’s fracking study’s steering committee members contributed to Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s political campaign against the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan‘s ballot initiative… and an analysis of the Committee’s campaign–or anything about Michigan’s ballot initiative process–is nowhere to be found.
One of 7 technical reports by U of M--steered by the Michigan gas industry.
The reports — three months late according to the schedule — give no attention to the ongoing campaign of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan for a veto-proof ballot initiative to ban high-volume horizontal fracking. Instead the overview just assumes “future hydraulic fracturing treatments will likely be of very high volume,” so Michigan better get ready.
Mentioned prominently, both in the overview and the report on policy and law, are several regulatory reform bills now in the legislature. They concern water withdrawal, chemical disclosure, and landowner protection. Similar bills were introduced in the previous term. No hearings were held and they died.
Groups Seeking a Ban on Fracking
One reference to the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan did slip into the Public Perceptions report. The mention was sloppy. Instead of this year’s effort for a legislative ballot initiative, it referenced last year’s very different campaign for a constitutional amendment. And there is no link for interested readers to learn more at the initiative’s website. See http://letsbanfracking.org . (The report cites our banmichiganfracking.org website as the source on December 2013–which hasn’t happened yet).
The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, one of two prominent groups seeking a ban on fracking, is conducting a highly-visible statewide ballot initiative in 2013 that the U of M didn't notice much. Washtenaw county coordinator Nancy Witter collects signatures at a booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fairs in U of M's backyard, July 2013. Photo by LuAnne Kozma. Below: Video of Committee to Ban Fracking's action on September 13.
In a section describing the differences between the pro-regulation/pro-frack groups such as Michigan Environmental Council and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, both of which sit on the study’s steering committee, and those groups seeking an outright ban, is a discussion of our group, Ban Michigan Fracking (see pages 10-11, Public Perceptions Technical Report) as one of “two prominent groups” seeking a ban on fracking.
Stopping Fracking Has Public Support in Michigan
But the report did notice the campaign goal has significant public support. It cited Michigan’s only public opinion poll about fracking, which was conducted by a section of UM’s Ford School of Public Policy in October 2012, nearly a year ago. When respondents were asked if they support or oppose fracking, view it positively or negatively, et cetera, they were all over the lot. http://closup.umich.edu/files/nsee-fracking-fall-2012.pdf.
But when it came to the bottom line — policy options for the state — a 52% majority agreed that Michigan “should establish a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing,” as against 41% who disagreed. Slight majorities also disapproved of how both the governor and legislature have “handled the issue of natural gas drilling in the state.”
The solid results are the more striking when the questions are examined closely. The Ford School pollers were well aware of the distinction between fracking in traditional vertical bores, and fracking in new and more controversial horizontal bores. But the questions did not make that distinction. The majority was for a moratorium of all fracking, even including the traditional vertical kind which the initiative does not target.
The Graham assessment is integrated and the lead authors read each others’ reports. They all knew of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ban initiative, and they all knew stopping fracking had public support.
This is the entryway to the financial conflict which fatally wounds the assessment’s credibility.
Trouble In The Ivory Tower
The Graham assessment is chaired by a steering committee, including Governor Rick Snyder’s senior strategy advisor, along with academics, industry representatives, and pro-regulated fracking environmental groups. According to the project timeline, in the spring this committee had a meeting with the lead authors of the technical reports.
Consider two of the industry people on the steering committee, John DeVries of the law firm Mika Meyers Beckett & Jones (which represents Encana in fracking cases in Michigan), and Gregory Fogle who owns Old Mission Energy. Together they speak for the Michigan Oil and Gas Association (MOGA), helping to steer the assessment. They were quoted in a UM press release last fall announcing the Graham study. DeVries in particular claimed the study would be “unbiased.”
Each of them — Fogle on June 13 through his company and DeVries on June 17 through his law partnership — personally contributed $500 to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s “PAC-II” ballot question committee (Secretary of State ID # 513425) which vociferously opposes the ballot initiative with a campaign of their own called “Protect Michigan’s Energy Future.” PAC-II has put up billboards around the state.
John DeVries and Gregory Fogle--U of M frack study steering committee members-- contributed to the political campaign for these billboards all over the state aimed at defeating the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan's ballot initiative. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.
The PAC-II filing became public on July 26. The exact date of the steering committee’s meeting with the lead authors is not known. Originally it was scheduled for late April, two months before the original target date for the reports. But given the three-month delay in releasing the reports, probably the meeting was also moved back, closer to the time-frame when MOGA and its minions were taking a swing at the ban initiative.
Disclosure of financial bias or potential financial bias is traditional in academic circles. Fogle and DeVries could no longer claim to be materially unbiased. They would have announced their contributions and political activism — or intended activism if the contributions had not yet been made — at the meeting. Then they should have resigned. But everyone heard it, excused it, and kept it quiet.
Alternatively, Fogle and DeVries may not have come clean at the meeting. In that case the Institute itself should have removed them for lack of candor, the day Graham learned of the contributions. The date it learned is not known.
The overview and technical reports issued on September 3 did not inform readers of Fogle’s and DeVries’s conflict. At this writing they are still on the steering committee.
Natural Gas Is A Special Interest In Michigan
There is another part of the ban initiative which the technical reports similarly refused to acknowledge, equally important as the ban itself.
Back in 1939 oil and gas production was considered environmentally benign. The main worry was just fire and blowouts.
That year the state codified an overall policy requiring DEQ regulators and the courts to construe the law “to foster the development of the [oil and gas] industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products [oil and gas].”
Under the policy, whenever an environmental regulator or a judge encounters an ambiguous situation not specifically covered by a law or regulation, he or she has to opt for what the industry wants. The DEQ may not even treat the industry neutrally, as other agencies do. Oil and gas is a mandated special interest.
Otherwise stated, the policy means regulators are to foster industry profits, and maximize Michigan’s contribution to global warming.
Presumably at the behest of the compromised steering committee, the Gosman report makes no mention of the seemingly popular ballot initiative, nor even of the power of the people to force a vote of all Michigan voters, bypassing elected officials. Under state and regional trends, other states’ ban and moratoria are identified. Gosman writes about “prioritized pathways” to guide future policy options, including options for “public participation in governmental decisions on hydraulic fracturing” . . . but not the most obvious one of all spelled out in the state constitution that Michigan voters readily make use of–direct democracy by initiative and referendum.
With the opponents of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ballot initiative directly steering the U of M Frack Study, it’s no wonder why.
The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s campaign collects signatures through October 1, 2013. Volunteer or donate at www.letsbanfracking.org.
To make a comment on the U of M’s Graham Institute’s website about the hydraulic fracturing reports go here. The comment deadline is October 7, 2013.
Frack Off UK has produced a fantastic animated YouTube video, called “Don’t FRACK Our Future, Doreen’s Story.” Like Michigan, the UK is facing the prospect of unprecedented shale gas drilling and fracking. They look to the U.S. to show just how bad fracking is. We recommend it for Michigan teachers, professors and students. Please share widely!
Below is their description of the video short:
Unconventional gas exploration is threatening Britain and Ireland. Licenses and planning applications have already been granted by the Government with little or no community consultation. The scale of the industrialisation and impacts are never discussed.
This film charts Doreen and John’s journey from the shock of the drill rigs arrival to the sickening realisation that their lives and the lives of their family and friends will be profoundly affected. They live in Lancashire within sight of a shale gas well that is scheduled for hydraulic fracturing. Hear more from Doreen here:http://youtu.be/KpL5zbNqthg
Like Doreen and John, individuals and communities across the UK are realising that the only way to stop this industry is to inform and empower their community and stand together for a better future.
Saying “No” to unconventional gas opens up many alternatives. Saying “Yes” or doing nothing leaves us facing a future where we are still dependent on fossil fuels with polluted air and water, and thousands of leaking gas wells across the countryside.
Find out how this will affect you, your family and your community. Find out how you can take action to stop the industrialisation of the countryside, pollution of air and water and plan for a better future. You can make a difference. A strong well organised community is the best defence against this industry.
What the article actually documented was that, from a sample of one out of tens of thousands of fracked Pennsylvania wells, “preliminary: results from an “ongoing study” found no fracking chemical markers in the drinking water above.
The article quotes Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, who was not involved with the study. “He called it a ‘useful and important approach’ to monitoring fracking, but he cautioned that the single study doesn’t prove that fracking can’t pollute, since geology and industry practices vary widely in Pennsylvania and across the nation.”
Later in the article, “Jackson wonderedwhether the unidentified drilling company might have consciously or unconsciously taken extra care with the research site, since it was being watched. He also noted that other aspects of the drilling process can cause pollution, such as poor well construction, surface spills of chemicals and wastewater.”
It should be noted that Dr. Jackson was part of a peer-review Duke University study that found “evidence that natural gas escaped from some wells near the surface and polluted drinking water in northeastern Pennsylvania.” Jackson’s suggestion that DOE may have cherry-picked its sole-studied well, or that the unnamed gas company may have led DOE to a pre-selected sample is cautionary indeed.
Well, NETL just happens to be owned and operated by DOE, and its mission, as stated on its own website asserts that:
“NETL implements a broad spectrum of energy and environmental research . . . enabling domestic coal, natural gas, and oil.”
Certainly no reason to look for conflict of interest there! It is interesting, though, that the “preliminary result of this ongoing study” should be seen as so groundbreaking that it required an immediate press conference and PR interview with Kathryn “Fracking-Queen” Klaber. Or that it was released to all major news outlets despite the disclaimer near the end of the article:
“On Friday, DOE spokesman David Anna added that while nothing of concern has been found thus far, ‘the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims.’”
So, I guess “Federal hydrofracking study shows no contamination of drinking water in Pennsylvania” isn’t a firm scientific claim then, but just a corporate happy thought.
Well, thanks, DOE, for the terrific sneaky preview. And, for what it’s worth, in my preliminary opinion you’re doing a crackerjack job of fulfilling your mission—to enable the gas industry, despite the facts or good scientific method.
–Steve Coffman 7/23/13
Thanks Steve, for uncovering and writing about this and offering it to our website.
In a quarterly campaign statement filed on July 23 the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s ballot question committee reported direct contributions of $324,525 in the April-July period.
The money is to be spent on billboards and a website to try to defeat the ballot initiative of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, according to the Chamber’s new campaign website http://www.michamber.com/energyindependence .
Named “PAC II,” the Chamber’s ballot question committee reported $37,500 of the total was from out of state. Earlier reports show PAC II had been nearly moribund until the Committee to Ban Fracking’s campaign began in April.
PAC II also had in-kind contributions, most related to a golf outing and office work, and most paid by the Chamber and several resorts and hotels. The total: $9,131.94.
Notably, Michigan’s big fracker Encana Oil & Gas (USA) and its Grand Rapids law firm Mika Meyers contributed ($5,000 and $500, respectively). Encana is a subsidiary of a Calgary-based firm of the same name with assets of US$14 billion. Last year it fracked a well in Kalkaska County with 21 million gallons of water, a world record.
At least ten other energy companies donated more than $10,000 each and at least twelve others over $5,000.
Expenses in the April-July period summed to $29,025.83, of which $20,000 went to Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group. Presumably the Resource Group designed the website and provides political advice. MRG is known for its work representing many polluting and toxic-waste producing industries in Michigan. (From their website about staffer Deb Muchmore: “Her expertise has brought a series of demanding assignments that have involved the state’s public energy utilities; waste handling and landfill operators; the world’s largest water bottling company; a top international mining company; a national paper manufacturing company; … Michigan’s oil and natural gas producers; a major chemical company; a global leader in cement manufacture; and more.”)
Most of the rest went for expenses at a golf outing on June 10 at Hawk Hollow, a luxury resort near Lansing. The event netted $34,622.68 on attendance of 69, or just over $500 each.
Last year PAC II spent $3.6 million opposing renewable energy and union ballot initiatives to amend the Michigan constitution. The Chamber itself made more contributions against the initiatives on top of that.
PAC II’s founding statement in 2007 did not name the ballot proposals it supported or opposed. It should have, in item # 12 on the form. In addition to the Committee to Ban Fracking, today there are three other Michigan ballot proposals in the qualifying stages. One is about abortion, one is about wolves, and one is about ballot referendums. None of them spent nearly as much as PAC II in the April-July period.
On August 6 we asked an analyst at the state campaign finance bureau how the public could tell from PAC II’s report which ones of the four proposals the Resource Group’s $20,000 work would address. We are guessing that probably 100% of the Group’s efforts will be directed at the frack ban initiative, but the financial report doesn’t actually say that. As it stands, PAC II would be free to allocate substantial money to support or oppose, for example, the abortion proposal. Is this proper?
Puzzled at first by the question, the state analyst finally said a letter would go out to PAC II demanding which ballot questions the Group would address, and whether it was for or against. PAC II must answer in 9 days.
THE CHAMBER’S CLAIMS, OUR ANSWERS
The Chamber’s press release and website make several erroneous, gas industry talking points, such as: “With over 12,000 wells drilled using this technique, hydraulic fracturing has clearly been proven safe”; current state regulation is “tough but fair”; jobs; “energy independence,” and public revenue are important; Michigan voters last year rejected petition drives controlled by “out-of-state interests with a national agenda”; energy policy should be decided “by legislative give-and-take”; the Committee to Ban is a “narrow special interest group with an ax to grind”; ”don’t turn Michigan into California”; the petition drive is “dangerous” and “based on fear and emotion” and a “direct attack on a key industry.”
Regular readers of this page will be already familiar with these arguments and their refutations, so we content ourselves only with this:
* Energy independence and out-of state interests: Michigan’s biggest fracker is foreign-owned and much of the gas produced would go out of the state and country. Only 25% of the gas found here is produced by Michigan-based companies. The Chamber can hardly complain of out-of-state interests when it is taking $37,500 from them.
* Tough regulation: DEQ plays patsy for the industry, as demonstrated most recently by its bungling close-mouthed slap-on-the-hand response to a distributor who put 300,000 gallons of poisonous oilfield wastes (that they would like to call “brine”) on roads near the Platte River in rural Benzie County in June.
* Petition drives of last year: All of them sought constitutional amendments. The frack ban initiative this year seeks a legislative amendment. The Michigan Chamber puts all initiatives into one category, and their message to voters is that democracy is just not convenient for Big Business (especially polluting industries). They’d rather keep decisions about fracking in the hands of their lobbied and industry-supported legislators–not the voters of Michigan.
* Direct attack on a key industry: First, an industry which poses a silicosis hazard to its workers and contamination danger to its neighbors, and destroys the livelihoods of others can hardly be called “key.” But the rest of this point does hold water and it’s a good one. The ballot initiative attacks the oil-gas industry’s special-interest protection which it has enjoyed for years. Michigan has a law saying the DEQ has to construe everything in a way to “foster” the industry favorably, and “maximize” oil-gas production. In other words, maximize the state’s contribution to global warming, and maximize oil-gas profits. That’s why the industry today has so much money. The initiative would change the DEQ’s duty so it would have to protect human health and water. Isn’t that what a Department of Environmental Quality is supposed to do? Protect the quality of the environment rather than the health of the pocketbooks of oil and gas?
THE CHAMBER AND THE COMMITTEE TO BAN FRACKING COMPARED
Financial reports of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan are here: http://miboecfr.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/cfr/com_det.cgi?com_id=515957 . In the same April-July period, they show direct contributions of $12,482.01 and in-kind contributions of $70.12. Expenditures were $5,734.64, primarily for printing. The Committee to Ban owes $3,935.
In other words the industry has collected 26 times what the Committee to Ban has collected. Does the Committee stand a chance against such odds? Yes.
First, we expected the industry to bully and pile on, but we didn’t imagine it would do so while the Committee was still qualifying for the ballot. The Chamber’s bag of dirty fossil fuel money means it figured out in April the Committee to Ban will make it. The Chamber is nervous and uncertain. Well it should be, with so much to lose.
Second, these are bullying tactics, intended to intimidate. We think the voters will see that. In Longmont Colorado last November the industry outspent ban supporters by a similar margin — $500,000 to $25,000. The result: 60% of voters went for a ban.
Third, a video on the PAC II website says if the Committee makes the ballot, voters will be “barraged by 30-second sound bites.” Interesting. Radio and TV sound bites are expensive. The Chamber not only expects the Committee will make the ballot, but when it does the grass roots will step up with money.
Direct contributors to PAC II in April-July 2013 (where one contributor made multiple contributions they are aggregated):
$50,000: Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
$10,000: Muskegon Development Co, Breitburn Energy Partners, Jordan Exploration Co, Summit Petroleum Corp, Savoy Exploration, Dart Oil & Gas, Merit Energy, Countrymark (Indianapolis IN), DTE Energy, Michigan Oil and Gas Association, West Bay Exploration Co, Jackson National Life Insurance, Linn Energy (Houston TX), Strickler Resources.
$5,000: Trendwell Energy, MITEP, Omimex Energy (Fort Worth TX), Paxton Resources, OIL Energy, Enervest Operating East (Charleston WV), Miller Energy, Core Energy, Bigard & Huggard Drilling, Wavelet Investments, Amway, Fruehauf Production Co, Rock Oil Co, Southwestern Oil Co, Encana Oil & Gas USA (Denver CO), Western Land Services, Kelly Miller Miller Investment Co.
$4,000: Yohe Enterprises.
$2,500: Harkins Energy, Kler Energy, McLaren Health Care Corp, Consumers Energy, Gulfmark Energy, Pharma (Indianapolis IN), Citizens Insurance, Nestle Waters North America.
$2,000: Maness Petroleum.
$1,500: American Aggregates Corp.
$1,300: Republic Services, Alerus Financial Corp, Packaging Corp of America, Physicians Health Plan Inc.
$1,000: Worman & Dixon PLC, Marketing Resource Group, General Agency Co, MI Cable Telecommunications Assoc, Great Lakes Caring, Truscott Rossman Group, Allied Printing Co, Lilly USA, Indian Trails.
$ 900: Dykema Gossett.
$ 600: Anderson Economic Group, Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance.
$ 500: North Bay Energy, SHA Energy, Greg Fogle Old Mission Energy, Mika Meyers Beckett & Jones.
$ 300: MI Infrastructure & Trans Assoc, Edward C Levy Co, Wolfgast Corp, New Center Stamping, Governmental Consultant Svcs, Lockwood Companies, AAA Automobile Club of MI, Bull Enterprises, Auto Owners Insurance Co, Meijer.
$ 275: Quality Pool Supply Co.
$ 200: William Stelzer Stelzer Consulting, David Moody.
Experts–former gas industry insiders–are speaking up about the impact of horizontal hydraulic fracturing and the devastating effect it has on global warming. We reprint the the following interview with former Mobil Vice President Louis Allstadt by journalist Ellen Cantarow, with permission by Truthout.org. And we link to today’s opinion-editorial by Dr. Anthony R. Ingraffea in the New York Times, Gangplank to a Warm Future.
Few people can explain gas and oil drilling with as much authority as Louis W. Allstadt. As an executive vice president of Mobil oil, he ran the company’s exploration and production operations in the western hemisphere before he retired in 2000. In 31 years with the company he also was in charge of its marketing and refining in Japan, and managed its worldwide supply, trading and transportation operations. Just before retiring, he oversaw Mobil’s side of its merger with Exxon, creating the world’s largest corporation.
The first in a modest Long Island German-American family to graduate from college (the US Merchant Marine Academy), Allstadt got a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University then was hired by Mobil. Before his retirement he wasn’t aware of a new, sophisticated form of rock fracture, high-volume hydraulic fracturing, developed only in the late 1990s. “It just wasn’t on our radar at that time,” he said. “We were heavily focused on developing conventional oil and gas offshore in deep water.”
Quaint, arty Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, is perched on the shores of Lake Otsego, which supplies drinking water to the village and glimmering, placid expanses for kayakers and boaters. Allstadt launched his leisure years in this idyllic spot, intending to leave the industry behind. He founded an art gallery with his wife, Melinda Hardin, made pottery, kayaked, taught other people to kayak, and played tennis. But then friends started asking him questions about fracking – it had been proposed near the lake. What he saw as he began investigating the technology and regulations proposed by New York’s state Department of Environmental Conservation (1,500 pages titled “Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, a.k.a. ‘the SGEIS ‘ “) alarmed him. In these pages last year he called high-volume fracking “conventional drilling on steroids.” “Just horrible,” is how he described the 2011 SGEIS in our conversation in June 2013.
Allstadt has become an indispensable guide for one of the country’s most powerful environmental movements, New York’s grass-roots anti-fracking resistance. Recently he was elected a Cooperstown Trustee. He is modest and low-key, his authority hallmarked by personal understatement. He said this interview was a first for him: earlier talks and interviews have focused on what he calls “tweaking the technology and [promoting] tighter regulations.” Never before has he focused squarely on the industry’s impact on the planet’s atmosphere.
A note about interview chronology: Allstadt’s observations about the Obama climate-change address were added in phone conversations in July 2013. The rest of the interview took place in person in mid-June 2013. A brilliant June sun illuminated the greenery of gardens below the back porch of the Cooperstown house where we spoke. In the driveway, a kayak rested atop a car.
Louis Allstadt: The fracking that’s going on right now is the real wake-up call on just what extreme lengths are required to pull oil or gas out of the ground now that most of the conventional reservoirs have been exploited – at least those that are easy to access.
Ellen Cantarow: So could you describe the dangers of this industry?
LA: First of all you have to look at what is conventional oil and gas. That was pretty much anything that was produced until around 2000. It’s basically a process of drilling down through a cap rock, an impervious rock that has trapped oil and gas beneath it – sometimes only gas. If it’s oil, there’s always gas with it. And once you’re into that reservoir – which is really not a void, it’s porous rock – the natural pressure of the gas will push up the gas and oil. Typically you’ll have a well that will keep going 20, 30 years before you have to do something to boost the production through a secondary recovery mechanism. That conventional process is basically what was used from the earliest wells in Pennsylvania through most of the offshore production that exists now, that started in the shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico and gradually moved down into deeper and deeper water.
Now what’s happened is that the prospect of finding more of those conventional reservoirs, particularly on land and in the places that have been heavily explored like the US and Europe and the Middle East just is very, very small. And the companies have pretty much acknowledged that. All of them talk about the need to go to either non-conventional shale or tight sand drilling or to go into deeper and deeper waters or to go into really hostile Arctic regions and possibly Antarctic regions.
Methane release: fracking the planet’s future
So when you talked about “the race for what’s left,” that’s what’s going on. Both the horizontal drilling and fracturing have been around for a long time. The industry will tell you this over and over again – they’ve been around for 60 years, things like that. That is correct. What’s different is the volume of fracking fluids and the volume of flow-back that occurs in these wells. It is 50 to 100 times more than what was used in the conventional wells.
The other [difference] is that the rock above the target zone is not necessarily impervious the way it was in the conventional wells. And to me that last point is at least as big as the volume. The industry will tell you that the mile or two between the zone that’s being fracked is not going to let anything come up.
But there are already cases where the methane gas has made it up into the aquifers and atmosphere. Sometimes through old well bores, sometimes through natural fissures in the rock. What we don’t know is just how much gas is going to come up over time. It’s a point most people haven’t gotten. It’s not just what’s happening today. We’re opening up channels for the gas to creep up to the surface and into the atmosphere. And methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas in the short term – less than 100 years – than carbon dioxide.
Methane-migration evidence and the DEC
EC: Was there any major turning point that started you thinking about methane migration?
LA: There were many. An example is that one of the appendices of the draft SGEIS [New York Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines for the gas industry] that was issued in July 2011, had a section describing an EPA study of the only cases where similar fractures had been unearthed. These were in a coal-mining area. The EPA investigation indicated that the fractures had progressed in unexpected patterns and at greater lengths than expected. In September, when the draft SGEIS was eventually put out for comment, that section had been expunged.
EC: That’s shocking! I know a lot has been discovered about the collusion between New York’s DEC and the industry. Is this one big example?
LA: Yes, it is. To ignore the only direct evidence of fractures, or to remove it from public information, indicates that the industry was trying to hide something. The other point is that in terms of a turning point (in my thinking), here is evidence that the fractures go further and in patterns that were not expected. It showed that fractures could allow methane to reach drinking water aquifers or the atmosphere.
In Charge at Mobil
EC: Let’s back up for a moment to your career at Mobil. Were you thinking about climate change then?
LA: Just starting to in the 1990s. When I first heard about it I thought climate change was overblown. I don’t think anybody in the industry was focused on it at that point
EC: And did you have any idea you would be talking to a reporter about it?
LA: No, not at all.
EC: Maybe you could talk a little about what you did at Mobil. You were in charge …
LA: I was in charge of the US and Latin America.
EC: In charge of exploration?
LA: Mostly production. There wasn’t a whole lot of exploration going on in this area.
EC: What does being in charge of production mean?
LA: Production is everything other than finding something in the first place. There was some exploration going on, more in the Eastern hemisphere than the West at that particular point in time. But if you have already discovered a field, production means drilling more wells to further delineate it and to get more production out of it or going back in and doing secondary recovery operations or buying fields from somebody else and combining them with yours, things like that.
EC: How long did you do that?
LA: I got into this toward the end of my career. I started in logistics and then moved into marketing and refining. I was in Japan and Singapore for a total of 12 years, ended up running Mobil’s operations in Japan, which was their biggest [marketing and refining] operation outside the US. And then I came back to headquarters in the US to head up the logistics area – all of the shipping, about 40 tankers moving oil around the world, buying types of crude oil that we needed, selling types that we didn’t need, making sure that all of our refineries around the world got the right supplies at the right time and then also trading oil with other companies. And after that, Mobil did a major reorganization and put me over in an exploration-producing job. When the merger with Exxon came along, I was in charge of implementing the merger from the Mobil side. I had worked in three major areas of the company and I was going to retire after the merger. I had a counterpart on the Exxon side who had also done the same thing.
A quiet retirement gets fracked
I retired with no intention of doing anything in the oil or gas industries. [But] about the time we bought this house and started restoration, people that knew I had been in the oil business started saying, what do you think about fracking? I had not been following it at all, and said, ‘What do you mean?’ ” They said, ‘They’re talking about maybe drilling gas wells 100 or 150 feet from the lake.” I said, “That’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense, I’ll see what I can find out.”
That’s where it started. I started looking into it, realized what the new process was, and looked at the New York State regulations, and at that point they were just starting to draft the first version of the SGEIS, and they were just horrible. They didn’t make sense even for conventional drilling, most of them, they were so weak.
Initially I put together a little presentation. People started asking me if I would talk about it. It just happens that there are a few people within a couple miles of here that know something about it. We had different approaches, different styles, but we would share information. The focus at that time was the SGEIS, which was supposed to guide the establishment of high-volume hydrofracking. I ended up giving presentations to many towns around upstate New York. Sometimes this was on my own or in a small group. Sometimes it was as part of panel discussions with people from both sides of the fracking debate.
Standing Room Only
A Canadian drilling company started drilling nearby, and that got people’s attention. … And then they started doing some seismic testing in the town of Middlefield. When the seismic took place, [it] spurred a grass-roots anti-fracking group to form almost overnight. It was mostly women. They started going to the town board. I own property in the town, so I went over, talked some. Another nearby town, Otsego, asked me to be on their gas advisory committee. So I did that. Once a month we’d get together. There were some pro-drillers on it, some anti. When it came to the town meetings the town halls hardly ever had anybody come unless they needed a stop sign or some issue like that. And all of a sudden there was standing room only. And it just kind of kept building.
Those two Town Boards pretty quickly realized that they had to do something and started thinking about how they could zone it out [using zoning regulations to ban the industry from town limits, a strategy that has since been remarkably successful.] That was in the early days of talking about the possibility that you could indeed zone against drilling.
In the early days I was not sure that a ban was the right thing to do. I was thinking that there probably could be a technical solution, and if you had regulations [written] properly, you might be able to do it. The industry had solved some huge technical problems over the years. Like, how do you drill 250 miles offshore in iceberg alley off Newfoundland?
More Fracking Consequences
The industry actually has a lot of very smart people working for it. As long as the box that they’re working in is manageable, they can do a very good job. I think that what you’ve got in fracking is ‘How do we work in a box this big,’ narrowly defining the problem, [he holds his hands a foot apart in front of him] when you’re really working in a huge box [he stretches his arms out wide] The real box is as big as the globe and the atmosphere. And they’re not seeing the consequences of moving outside the small box that they’re working in.
EC: So to go back to your earlier comments, what are the future consequences?
LA: 20, 30, 100 years down the road we don’t know how much methane is going to be making its way up. And if you do hundreds of thousands of wells, there’s a good chance you’re going to have a lot of methane coming up, exacerbating global warming. … That is what Tony Ingraffea is talking about as part of the problem. [Anthony Ingraffea, Dwight C. Baum professor of engineering at Cornell University, in 2011 co-authored a landmark study on the greenhouse-gas footprint of high-volume fracking.]
What you [also] don’t know [is that] when you plug that well, how much is going to find its way to the surface without going up the well bore. And there are lots of good indications that plugging the well doesn’t really work long-term. There’s still some pressure down there even though it’s not enough pressure to be commercially produced. And sooner or later the steel casing there is going to rust out, and the cement sooner or later is going to crumble. We may have better cements now, we may have slightly better techniques of packing the cement and mud into the well bore to close it up, but even if nothing comes up through the fissures in the rock layers above, where it was fracked, those well bores will deteriorate over time. And there is at least one study showing that 100 percent of plugs installed in abandoned wells fail within 100 years and many of them much sooner.
The way forward
EC: So what’s the solution?
LA: I think we have wasted a lot of time that should have gone into seriously looking into and developing alternative energies. And we need to stop wasting that time and get going on it. But the difficult part is that the industry talks about, well, this is a bridge fuel [that] will carry us until alternatives [are developed] but nobody is building them. It’s not a bridge unless you build the foundations for a bridge on the other side, and nobody’s building it.
EC: Have corporations like Mobil considered developing alternative energies?
LA: Yes. Back after the first  and second  oil crises, when we had the spikes in prices and the lines and rationing, there was a lot of talk and substantial investments in alternative energies. Mobil invested in solar, and so did Exxon, and kept it going for quite a number of years. They abandoned it as just not coming up to the technical promises [because] solar cells weren’t converting enough sun to electricity to be economically viable. There was also at that time a fair amount of work done on shale oil in the Western states, and that was not fracking for shale. It was mining the shale and trying to extract oil from it. It just never came through. More recently there’ve been attempts at biofuels and some attempts to use algae.
Obama and the future
EC: What are your thoughts about President Obama’s national address on climate change?
LA: Well, when he talked about the XL pipeline he said he wanted to be sure it didn’t increase carbon emissions. When he talks about natural gas, he kind of broad-brushes it and implies it’s better than coal.
The whole speech is feeding into [Exxon-Mobil CEO] Rex Tillerson’s comments at a recent Exxon-Mobil shareholders’ meeting where he said there’s nothing we can do to switch to alternative fuels [and still] allow economies to continue the way they are. Society has to solve the problems by dealing with global warming – building levees around the cities, things like that. Obama is feeding into that, saying we have to strengthen the infrastructure. Basically what the industry is doing is unloading all the costs of what it’s been doing onto the public. Just go out and build miles and miles of levees around New York City and build drainage systems and things like that. Obama is saying the same thing. We’ll go on producing natural gas and keep the cost low by having the taxpayers pick up the cost of dealing with the consequences of global warming. Obama proposed some very positive steps toward developing alternative energies but he is not addressing the impact that methane has on global warming.
Fractivists and the future
EC: You’ve been on both sides now – promoting fossil fuel development for your whole life until your retirement and now trying to fight fracking. Do you think the anti-fracking movement and other environmental movements are the main hope now?
LA: I think the main question is how fast can these movements educate enough people about the dangers of fracking and its impact on global warming. It will take masses of people demanding action from politicians to offset the huge amount of money that the industry is using to influence lawmakers, a world-scale version of those standing-room-only town meetings. Something has to wake up the general public. It will either be education from the environmental movements or some kind of climate disaster that no one can ignore.
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.