Gasland II: Not Truthland


Image: HBO

The second round of unabashed and one-sided bashing of the oil and gas industry, and in particular shale gas, played on HBO Tuesday. Gasland II opens with comments from Robert Howarth, a Cornell professor who has questioned the climate benefits of natural gas relative to coal with his own estimates, which wrongly assumed that all methane not accounted for as production was released into the air, rather than being captured or flared. EPA’s latest estimates show fugitive methane emissions well below the breakeven benchmark with coal burned in power plants. Estimates due any day from a joint effort by the Environmental Defense Fund, University of Texas and several operating companies are very likely to corroborate EPA’s findings.

The relatively esoteric issue of fugitive methane gives way to some really outrageous statements. The most egregious is linking seismic events associated with a few deep injection wells in several states used to dispose of fracking wastes (the largest probably being a 5.7 on the logarithmic Richter scale) to a study of what would happen to Los Angeles if an earthquake releasing about 80 times the amount of energy  (7.2 magnitude) occurred! No one has yet linked fracking itself to any seismic events that most people can feel, much less a large, destructive quake.

Anthony Ingraffea, another Cornell professor, explains in another scene how groundwater can be polluted by methane and various fluids in flowback and produced water. He draws only one cement barrier on the chalkboard (multiple barriers are common) and then leaves the novice listener with the false impression that “failures” of cementing and casings mean that groundwater becomes polluted. “Failure” in this case is a generic term for pressure anomalies that show something is not right in the wellbore, and these do happen quite often – he says 5 percent immediately and 50 percent over the well lifetime. How frequently groundwater is polluted in the process is not well understood in the scientific community, but, in any event, the frequency will be less than that for “failures.”

One helpful point made indirectly by the movie is the lack of transparency and information about this topic because industry practice in settling claims and lawsuits is to insist on silence from plaintiffs. Silence on the amount of the settlements is one thing. Silence on what happened is another. The public needs to understand what the actual risks are and by shutting in this information the industry does itself a disservice by giving the public the feeling that there is something big to hide. And, if there really is something big to hide, the industry needs to go all out to deal with it.

About Alan J. Krupnick

Alan Krupnick is co-director of Resources for the Future’s Center for Energy and Climate Economics (CECE) and a senior fellow at RFF. As co-director of CECE, Alan works with the full complement of Center researchers to establish and carry out the Center’s research agenda.

Views expressed above are those of the author. Resources for the Future does not take institutional positions on legislative or policy questions. All information contained on Common Resources is intended for informational and educational purposes and may only be used for these purposes. Please see RFF's Terms of Use for further information.

One Response to “Gasland II: Not Truthland”
  1. Scott Cannon says:

    Truth land? Funny you should mention the Energy in Depth lying film accusing Jish Fox of lying. Where was your critique of that?

    The gas industry and Energy in Depth’s reason for making this movie is to debunk what it says are false claims made by Josh Fox in the Oscar nominated film “Gasland”, that taps can’t be lit on fire because of gas drilling causing methane migration, because the methane has always been there. No one is denying that there is naturally occurring methane in Pennsylvania and other parts of the country. The industry itself does not deny that drilling causes methane migration into aquifers, just Energy in Depth, the lobby group who produced the movie. I personally have videotaped a tap lighting on fire because of drilling in a woman’s backyard with newspaper reporters standing right next to me in this video.

    The whole premise of this video is that Shelly DePue watched “Gasland” with her family and decided to go across country to look for the truth. This is made up. She admits this at 8:10 in this video. The gas industry found her through a land owners group and asked her to be in the video, not how it is portrayed in the film. Nothing like accusing someone of making stuff up by making stuff up. It negates the whole point.

    The second glaring problem is that the woman in the video goes around the country talking to experts that tell her that the well casings in gas drilling are safe and do not leak. What is not mentioned in the video is that after filming, one of the 10 wells on her property was found leaking and bubbling methane. Here is the link to the Inspection Report on that well.

    The third problem is that in the family makes a list of questions for Shelly to ask the experts including: “Do the gas companies follow the rules?” Apparently not. There was a 10 barrel oil based mud spill at the families well pad that WPX did not report.

    The forth issue is that Dr. Engleder implies that dish detergent is the only other substance in frack fluid besides water. Hmmm. Then says Josh’s Gasland is full of innuendo. Hmmm. I don’t recall hydrochloric acid and Benzene in my dish detergent. See link

    He goes on to imply there has never been any problems with wells fracked in the last 50 years. What about all the old and abandoned wells in PA I see on YouTube with the bubbling methane?

    In the video, Loren Salsman gives Shelly a nice glass of Dimock water and they drink up. What is not shown or mentioned in the video is that the water goes through an elaborate filter system provided by Cabot Oil and Gas, the gas company responsible for the methane migration in his well.

    Also, the company WXP Energy, who drilled the well, is being sued by a neighbor for possible water contamination. An investigation is under way. Here is a video about the neighbors.

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