Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fracking the Delaware River Basin

Listeners to Delaware's most popular local talk radio show, the Rick Jensen Show on WDEL (weekdays 1pm-4pm) recently heard Democratic Representative John Kowalko (Newark) go on a rant about fracking in the Delaware River Basin in which he insinuated some things that are, to be frank, simply untrue.  Before we get to Rep. Kowalko's comments, let me give you a little history on what we're talking about.  After the successful and uneventful fracking of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, energy companies have turned their attention to the rest of the 500 Trillion cubic ft of natural gas that is stewing among the rest of the shale.  Some of that oil lies in the northern end of the Delaware River Basin in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Southeastern New York.  Those plans could potentially affect not only N.Y. and PA but also NJ and Delaware.  So the issue of fracking was brought before the Delaware River Basin Commission which is a panel of the Governors from each of the Delaware River Basin states and the lead engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that meets to determine the potential impact vs. the potential benefits of any policy that affects the Delaware River Basin.  Once these companies began to look into the DRB and the DRBC began meeting about it, the environmentalists began their assault on fracking.

What is fracking?

Fracking refers to a method used to extract oil or natural gas from a well in which a substance called "fracking fluid" is pumped into the pipe and ultimately into the shale rock to stimulate oil and natural gas wells inside the shale.  During the practice, piping is encased in cement and drilled 6,000 feet into the ground.  The cement casing is in place to protect groundwater and to contain the fracking fluid.  The fracking fluid is composed of the following materials:
90%  Water
9.5% Sand
.5% Chemicals as follows - Sodium Chloride (used in table salt), Ethelyne Glycol (used in Windex), Borate salts (used in lipstick), Sodium Carbonate (used in detergents), Guar Gum (used to make Ice Cream) and Isopropanol (used in deodorant)

Environmentalist scare tactics often point out that more than a half dozen deadly chemicals are used in fracking and pumped directly into the groundwater.  In fact, this is the first of the outright untruths that Kowalko mentioned.  The reality is that unless salt, ice cream and water are deadly, the number is 3 chemicals (+ sand) and the fluid is pumped into the shale thousands of feet below the water table.  In fact, despite the propaganda in the film "Gasland", in all the fracking operations in Pennsylvania, there has been no proven affect to groundwater. 

Another favorite of the environmentalist scare mongers is that fracking causes earthquakes.  This is another absurdity that Kowalko was peddling on the Jensen show.  Earthquakes are caused by the sliding of tectonic plates.  Now, there is some debate over what causes the plates to move but the majority of scientists believe that the movement is related to the earths gravity, and the rotation of the Earth.  What's clear, is that explosions on the surface of the earth, or even thousands of feet below the surface do NOT cause earthquakes.  In fact, the USGS among other agencies around the world have experimented with detonating nuclear weapons below the surface of the Earth and they have found that even a 5 megaton nuke (5 times the size of the largest active weapon in the U.S. arsenal), detonated 5,000 ft below the surface couldn't cause an earthquake.

My Take

As a candidate for the Delaware State Senate, I believe that I should make my opinions known on the issue.  Given the factual evidence of the benefits and risks involved in fracking the ground in the Delaware River Basin, if asked, I would strongly consider the idea.  Should hard factual evidence of groundwater contamination or real danger to the water table be brought to my attention, I could consider a different position but given the current reality, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't look at safe ways to increase our domestic supply of many different sources of energy.

The simple truth is that the best, cheapest and most effective way to not only reduce our reliance on foreign oil but to boost our economy is to develop a sound energy strategy.  For all the talk about the outrageous "subsidies" for oil and natural gas, renewable sources take far more for far less output.  Renewable energy accounts for just 8% of all sources of energy in the United States and even the most optimistic outlooks only expect it to account for a maximum of 12% of U.S. demand in coming years.  Invest more money to grow them?  According to the U.S Energy Information Agency, in Fiscal Year 2010, Wind got $5 Billion in direct subsidies while oil and natural gas received $654 Million in tax write-offs.  Solar, received 33% MORE than wind energy did.  Let me just address the issue of subsidy type here, we're talking about direct subsidies vs. tax incentives.  Direct subsidies are cash payments to producers to make their product cheaper than it would normally be.  This can be done through loans or grants (the more common form) and is a way that government selects the companies and industries it wants to make profitable regardless of their market value.  Tax incentives are generally available to most businesses/individuals and in the case of the oil and gas companies they come in the form of write-offs for land depreciation.  It's simple, the land is worth a certain amount with a certain amount of oil on it. As you remove that oil, from the ground, the land devalues.  it's only practical to then allow that land owner to write-off the excess taxes on land no longer worth the original value.  The argument that oil and natural gas have had their own time of direct subsidies is also not valid.  There is no history of any direct subsidies to oil and gas companies, even when the industry was just getting started in the late 1800's.  In fact, even the tax write-offs didn't start until 50 years AFTER the industry was born.  Meanwhile, renewable sources have needed direct subsidies just to remain afloat and as we've seen with Solyndra and Fisker, even that is hit or miss.

So in the end, we need to be smart as a nation and Delaware can ill afford even higher energy costs.  The Marcellus Shale and other shale formations give America a distinct advantage and a real opportunity at not only energy independence but also to reduce the cost of energy.  Lowering costs to businesses and consumers would create jobs, lower the burden on families and increase our safety and security.  The danger of soap, water and sand thousands of feet below the surface is minimal given the positive economic impact that would result from the fracking.

I'll give the final word to the EPA:


  1. why are containers of water shipped to people in PA because their water is contaminated.
    why are some PA people able to set their tap water on fire
    why aren't ALL the chemicals disclosed...because what is called a Haliburton Loop Hole

  2. #1 - Water contamination happens for many reasons...what's interesting is that a Haliburton exec actually DRANK the Fracking fluid...http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/business/Bottoms-Up-Energy-Exec-Drinks-Fracking-Fluid-128234633.html

    #2 - There are folks all across the country who "can set their tap water on fire". There is no evidence that it has anything to do with the fracking operations what-so-ever. In fact, that myth was tested in Colorado and Colorado debunks the claim: “Dissolved methane in well water appears to be biogenic [naturally occurring] in origin. ...There are no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water well.” (COGCC, 9/30/08)

    #3 - All chemicals ARE disclosed - you see, I saw the same movie that you did...Here's the list (which has been disclosed for some time) of all fluids stored on site, including some not even used in the fluid itself...http://marcellusdrilling.com/2010/06/list-of-78-chemicals-used-in-hydraulic-fracturing-fluid-in-pennsylvania/...furthermore...the gas industry is regulated under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act

    Finally, here are some statements from the EPA and State officials to help you out with your facts:
    PENNSYLVANIA: “There has never been any evidence of fracking ever causing direct contamination of fresh groundwater in Pennsylvania or anywhere else.” (PA DEP’s Scott Perry, Scranton Times-Tribune, 4/2/10)

    NEW YORK: “I think is clear that when put into the proper context and perspective, the reported information shows that the incidence of spills and other pollution events at modern
    natural gas well sites is exceedingly low …” (Alexander B. “Pete” Grannis, commissioner of NY DEC, 12/30/09)

    TEXAS: “Though hydraulic fracturing has been used for over 50 years in Texas, our records do not indicate a single documented contamination case associated with hydraulic fracturing.”
    (Texas Railroad Commission’s Victor Carrillo, 5/29/2009)

    OHIO: “After 25 years of investigating citizen complaints of contamination, [our] geologists have not documented a single incident involving contamination of ground water attributed to
    hydraulic fracturing.” (Scott Kell, deputy chief of Ohio DNR, 5/27/09)

    NEW MEXICO: “[W]e have found no example of contamination of usable water where the cause was claimed to be hydraulic fracturing.”
    (Mark Fesmire, director of NM Oil Conservation Division, 5/29/09)

    ALABAMA: “I can state with authority that there have been no documented cases of drinking water contamination caused by such hydraulic fracturing operations in our state.” (Barry H.
    “Nick” Tew, Jr., Oil & Gas supervisor for Alabama, 5/27/09)

  3. Haliburton exec drank real fracking fluid? Yeah right, sure. My ass. Any Delawarian who thinks fracking is safe is a damn fool. Tom Corbitt must love you, pal. DeConservative, you are endangering the health of Delawarians who foolishly follow your advice by suggesting fracking is a good thing. You honestly believe millions of tons of fracking effluent deliberately dumped though our waterways is a-ok? Do you actually think cherry-picking right-wing, pro-BigOil quotes makes your case credible? These companies don't care about you OR me, dumbass. They don't care if our entire families die of cancer from their waste. They only care about one thing, buddy. PROFIT... Then again, hey, wtf do I know? I'm just a welfare-collecting latte-drinkin' liberal, drivin' my Obama-stickered Prius and thinking homosexual thoughts all day. Yeah, I bet the whole town of Dimock, PA just put on a show for publicity. I bet that whole town is just a haven of liberals.