Doctors Call for Fracking Moratorium

Wow, this bit of news is amazing, in both a good and bad way. Just to mention one fracking contaminant, benzene is a particularly nasty carcinogen (not that this Bloomberg article mentions it, but it is the sort of thing that too often gets into water tables thanks to fracking). The fact that fracking is seen as a big enough public health risk to rally the normally apolitical medical profession (at least as far as measures ex health care reform are concerned) to call for intervention is striking.

From Bloomberg:

The U.S. should declare a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in populated areas until the health effects are better understood, doctors said at a conference on the drilling process.

Gas producers should set up a foundation to finance studies on fracking and independent research is also needed, said Jerome Paulson, a pediatrician at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington…

“We’ve got to push the pause button, and maybe we’ve got to push the stop button,” said Adam Law, an endocrinologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, in an interview at a conference in Arlington, Virginia that’s the first to examine criteria for studying the process…

A moratorium on fracking pending more research “would be reasonable,” said Paulson, who heads the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment in Washington, in an interview.

A top scientist at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that fluids used in hydraulic fracturing contain “potentially hazardous chemical classes.” The compounds include petroleum distillates, volatile organic compounds and glycol ethers, said Christopher Portier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


    1. Frank Speaking

      just exactly—even generally would help—what is your point?

      I guess we need to call in Hans, trolljegeren.

      1. B.Smith

        And which oil/gas company do you work for, your statement sounds way to one sided on propaganda, oh and i will bet you also have stock with Monsanto who states that modified food is also safe!!

    2. Jardinero1

      “The fact that fracking is seen as a big enough public health risk to rally the normally apolitical medical profession (at least as far as measures ex health care reform are concerned) to call for intervention is striking.”

      What does the medical profession know about geology, hydrology or petroleum engineering? If the NY State Cosmetology Board came out against fracking, would that impress you?

      “Gas producers should set up a foundation to finance studies on fracking and independent research is also needed, said Jerome Paulson, a pediatrician”

      I suppose that good doctor doesn’t realize that fracking has been studied quite intensely for seven decades in geology and petroleum engineering departments of major universities around the world, many of which would be considered independent or non-partisan

      1. Binky the Bear

        Geology departments are filled with industry people, their research and graduate students are funded by industry, and the fridges in the grad office are filled with frozen dinners, pop and ice cream by mining and oil companies and alumni who work for them.
        Good grief the propaganda is crude.

        1. Morgan

          Why does it require a degree to suggest a moritorium on a process that allows drinking water to be set afire and get the ground under your feet rocking and rolling??

    3. Up the Ante

      .. and the economy is on its knees.

      What better rebuttal to the implied absoluteness of your comment ?

  1. sleeper

    Be careful of what you wish for –

    The energy business is a full house of competing and colluding interests. While a rational approach is to compare all of the energy sources and their respective costs, then to compare the local availability before developing said energy source.

    1. Frank Speaking

      the relentless extraction of natural gas for export also puts the lie to the oft repeated political imperative of domestic production to end our dependence on foreign oil.

      instead of making natural gas THE fuel for all cars, trucks and busses—which would end our dependence on foreign oil—it is being exported to maximize profits.

      to the Exxon, Chevron and Koch Industries the US is just another third world nation to be plundered for its resources.

      Corporations have no national identity, no quaint notions of patriotism or respect for a nation’s Constitution, Bill of Rights or rule of law.

        1. They didn't leave me a choice

          Oh why yes there is, the pizza I got myself last evening got cold before I ate it. I can only blame myself for that.

        2. Up the Ante

          “to the Exxon, Chevron and Koch Industries the US is just another third world nation to be plundered for its resources. ”

          Ed Koch is a little more circumspect, but his brother Charles practically exudes glee from every pore of his body as the Plunderer.

      1. TMLutas

        You don’t need to switch over from liquid fuels and build out a whole new infrastructure for NG cars. That’s insanely expensive and would have a huge lead time of over a decade as we cycled out our liquid fuel burning cars.

        The solution is you build Fischer Tropsch plants to convert the gas to liquid fuels. The process is well known, also hated by the environmentalists because it gives King coal a new lease on life. You see FT plants work with any hydrocarbon and if you add a coal gasification stage, coal can be used as feeder stock.

        So the environmentalists would rather us export the NG for somebody else to burn rather than let FT plants get built so we can reduce pollution today because they have such a hate on for coal that even a theoretical future use for the stuff as FT feedstock shuts down their rational faculties.

    2. EH

      Oh, please do condescend to us. This energy business is just so complicated, us plebes should just go back to arranging grains of rice on our plates.

  2. natura listic

    Maybe big pharma should team up with big energy and legacy media and put these renegade doctors in their place. Then they could come up with a new (phony) drug to help rid the human body of fracking fluid.

  3. Frank Speaking

    “…that fluids used in hydraulic fracturing contain “potentially hazardous chemical classes.”

    and those are only the known fluids as the exact formulations are claimed to be proprietary and not currently known.

    hopefully this is a first step in at least breaking down the secret nature of what chemicals are used.

  4. LAS

    My brother, a seasoned geologist, also thinks that to pursue fracking in populated areas is nuts. His reasons are that the industry procedures run out of control and cannot be reliably contained. Where the chemicals will go in the earth is not controllable.

    1. Frank Speaking

      great…don’t know what the chemicals are and now we don’t know where they are going.

      but what about the TV ad that has the very precise diagram and unequivocal claim that there is no way the chemicals can get in the water table because they are injected well beneath the water table and the chemicals are contained securely within the drilling apparatus?

      is Big Oil lying to us?

      say it isn’t so!

    2. Nathanael

      Yet worse, the fracking companies are all investment scams.

      They are inflating the production numbers of the fields. They start drilling, announce huge numbers the first year, then sell off to suckers before it’s figured out that the numbers drop massively very quickly.

      This is their *business model*. Read the annual reports to read about them “flipping” natural gas fields.

      The fact about the inflated numbers was shown by the US Geological Survey.

      Given this, they will make *absolutely no effort* to be responsible about fracking. Whatever the worst-case scenario is, they’ll do it, legal or not, because they expect to have their money and be gone within a year.

  5. sleeper

    Sorry folks but in trying to get an interesting graph to insert in the email, I didn’t finish the email
    Here goes again –

    The energy business is full of competing and cooperating interests.

    As a result of this competition and collusion we see coal fired plants that fuel heating systems at large federal complexes -Oak Ridge, Savannah River, various and sundry military bases. Not terribly efficient but woe to the contractor that suggests ways to reduce consumption – you’ll soon hear from a coal state senator.

    The point being is that each energy source has it’s proponents and protectors whom are essentially interested in protecting the status quo.

    And while fracking can and does undoubtedly have it’s problems,and there are important problems that can adversely affect the public health, the development of natural gas from fracking directly threatens the heating oil market in the Northeast and Midwest (Marcellous Shale). Be very careful before blindly signing on an antifracking band wagon without first checking to see whom the driver is.

    A more rational approach to the nation’s power needs would be to determine the cost of the different power sources and the local availability of those sources.

    So we might expect the following rough pricing –

    Hydropower @ $0.02 kWh
    Energy Efficiency @ $ 0.025 kWh
    Geothermal @ $ 0.03 kWh
    Landfill Gas @ $ 0.035 kWh
    Biomass Cofiring @ $ 0.045 kWh
    Wind @ $ 0.06 kWh
    Natural Gas @ $ 0.06 kWh
    Coal @ $ 0.075 kWh
    Nuclear @ $ 0.095 kWh
    Biomass @ $ 0.095 kWh
    Concentrating Solar Power @ $ 0.135 kWh
    Photovoltaics @ $ 0.165 kWh
    Internal Combustion Power (diesel generator)@ $ 0.38 kWh

    Now clearly if we just look at cost we should use the least expensive power first but we should also bear in mind that some expensive power sources – nuclear, for example, is an unparalleled energy source for our nuclear navy which is able to transit vast oceans without the need to refuel. Photovoltaics are an important and competitive energy source for off grid applications where the cost of transmission lines is prohibitive. And so on.

    So remember that any discussion of energy sources is generally tainted by competing interests. And that a more rational analysis would be to compare actual costs.

    1. Frank Speaking

      so fracked natural gas is in competition with Alberta Tar Sands?

      are the costs you show inclusive of the externalities of production?

      1. sleeper

        Each energy source is in competition with every other source –

        And of course each competing interest will use other arguments to gain or protect market share.

        And the costs include the costs of constuction, well drilling, equipment installation.

        The point with cost is that different energy sources have different costs and that a rational way of discussing energy is to compare the costs. Numbers are open to discussion but the method ought to be clear and open for discussion.

        A good place to start a discussion of costs is

        1. Aquifer

          Environmental damage which is always inevitable, somehow never quite gets figured in, because it is “speculative” or considered to be adequately “mitigated” by the BS “conditions” that are included in the permits that are given. Never mind that the conditions are routinely violated, never mind that the violations are seldom caught or even when caught are punished.

          I have watched the NYDEC over the years with sand and gravel mining – they do not have the personnel to monitor the mines and even when private citizens pile the desk high with proof of violations, it takes forever to get a “conviction”; even then it is appealed to the Commissioner – a political appointment, who reduces the penalty to a slap on the wrist. The latest NY admin has slashed the DEC budget even more – so while there will be even more holes in the ground, there will be fewer folks to monitor them and those wonderful conditions in the permits designed to “mitigate” the bad effects won’t be worth the gas stained paper they are written on. Who the hell are we kidding here …

          1. Nathanael

            If they start moving in to frack your area, stop them by any means necessary. The law clearly will not protect you, and it’s your life at risk.

        2. Blunt

          One wonders where in the heck these guys emerge from? And then posting links to a non-profit that is subsidized and directed by the energy lobby itself? Puh-leez. (Go look at the “about us” faqs.

          As Aquifer points out costs in the capitalist world are never costs. Leukemia and other cancers in children as well as other forms of environmentally-caused diseases, further cancers and diseases among adult populations. Destruction of habitat and water supplies, great swatches of burnt over, mined to the rock & dust, then left to pursue it’s own fate areas continue to be the legacy of USA and global extractive industries.

          People die daily in WVa for Massey Energy and other large producers. Tom Corbett, space cadet, in PA is making it round two in the destruction of central and western PA in the name of energy extraction.

          The bottom line is that yes, we will have to change the sources of energy and our expectation of being able to destroy the earth without consequence. I will have to curb my enthusiasms for electric power and coal burning (in 2009, 37% of the nation’s energy came from petroleum, 21%, coal, and 25%, natural gas.) Extraction are us. And our economy.

          More destruction and more release of volatile chemicals into the atmosphere and our bodies is going to help no one, not even the brigands who case the extraction.

    2. rob134

      I propose we do a study to determine how many American deaths will result from fracking due to chemical poisening and earthquakes, factor in the cost of earthquake property damage and compare to barrels of oil produced for the WORLD MARKET.

      1. sleeper

        A discussion of the numbers is always welcome.

        I think part of the discrepancy is that EIA used “Estimated costs in 2016”

        While the costs I used are recent historical costs.

        And while a discussion of numbers and their source is important the point is that a rational approach is to look at the numbers before jumping.

        1. Rex

          Is this minor bickering between two apparent shills part of the scheduled entertainment for today?

          1. sleeper

            Not on my part.!!!

            I’m making the statement that there are many sources of energy each with a different cost.
            And that a rational discussion will include the costs.

            And further that different sources of energy have different promoters who often use arguments other than cost to gain market share.

            Sorry if any suggestion of a rational approach is perceived as being a shill.

  6. Helen

    I’m not sure I understand the limitation to “populated areas”. Aquifers don’t follow geopolitical boundaries, and arid states go very far afield to find the water they need.

  7. LAS

    I should also have said what usually happens is not a moratorium on industry activity pending more investigation. What usually happens is that industry goes ahead with its activities by acting as if there is some doubt about the human damage. There is no doubt that fracking is going to result in health damage; what’s going on is that industry does not want to accept the evidence. And by blowing out the doubtfulness of the evidence and need for more research, it will be able to proceed with its intended activities for 10-30 years.

  8. Jesse

    Yeah, let’s shut down the one industry that might actually help the rust belt to recover from 30+ years of economic devastation.

    1. eclair

      Oh criminy, Jesse. Do you understand that there are many kinds of jobs that could put our unemployed people back to work, if we have the political will and guts to create them?

      There are no – I repeat, no – substitutes for water. We get water tables laced with carcinogenic chemicals and we are done as a species. Although there are days when I think that might not be such a bad idea.

      1. Frank Speaking

        and not to mention the amount of water required to create oil from tar sands…four barrels of water for every barrel of oil and that water will never be anything other than a poisonous liquid for ever more.

        1. Spliffe

          Because of course it’s either fracking or tar sands, right? That’s the sort of creative, out-of-the-box, ambitious thinking that got America where it is today. The toilet.

    2. YankeeFrank

      I generally like your reasoning Jesse but destroying our water table is a non-recoverable act. We need water more than energy, and if we built massive geothermal systems that would employ many and NOT destroy our environment in the process we could live AND have energy. Have you seen the destruction fracking has caused?

    3. bob


      The rust belt MIGHT get some economic benefit, although there are already studies coming out of Pennsylvania showing this is just like the housing boom, no follow through on jobs, but plenty of delayed costs for the muni’s.

      The only reason this is even considered ‘profitable’ is because of the availability and minimal cost of water in the Northeast. This MIGHT change that.

      1. sleeper

        Extractive industries – the fur trade, mineral extraction, coal, timber, and so on never leave anything but a ravaged land and a poor, sick population.

        1. Lambert Strether

          All part of the 1%’s mission to turn this continent into a third-world country. Extractive economy? Check.

          On the bright side, servants are cheaper. Also, too, elite impunity. So what’s not to like?

    1. Aquifer

      Well considering you need water to make beer …..

      Miller Brewery polluted the Fulton Aquifer in Upstate NY – it was finally caught and pinned down in the 80’s by a singularly intrepid woman of my acquaintance. It is still sucking out the pollution ….

      1. bob

        An excellent report, with pictures….

        I keep wondering why no one is using the past salt solution mining fallout to beat the driller’s over the head with.

        Same geology, same area, very similar process, only instead of a few wells, they are talking about hundreds of thousands.

        1. Aquifer

          The Tully Valley, interesting place indeed – also ravaged by sand and gravel mining ….

          A draft generic EIS was done for S&G mining in the Cortlandville Tully area but never released – it got buried but i got my hands on a copy and understood why it was buried – they realized they could never clean it up enough to use it to justify mining. So now they do EAFs on individual mines and give them neg decs – refusing to consider cumulative impacts. I suspect that is what they are working on doing now for fracking wells ..

          The process for doing this is corrupted, folks, there is no way around it. You cannot do this “safely” and they know it, they just have to create enough doubt in folks minds to proceed before the sh** hits the fan. If you want to save your water and your land, you have to STOP it.

          That is a good question you raise, bob – maybe A Geologist, the poster above, can answer it if (s)he is still around …

          1. Skippy

            Studies? Why do they always play dumb…eh. Like AGeologist below.

            Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, Volume 206


            Cleaning Up Abandoned Mining Sites in the United States

            Read more:

            The Environmental Impacts on Water Sources Near Mine Dumps

            Read more: The Environmental Impacts on Water Sources Near Mine Dumps |

            Searching for paradise: economic development and environmental change in the Mountain West


            etc, etc, etc….

            We haven’t even started to clean up the past and adding at frenzied pace…shezz. Fracking is great because the bad is harder to see and prove…duh.

            Skippy… Now why did all the big mobs go to 3rd world sites aka Ok tedi

            The Coconut Revolution — “Bear” Grylls first doco lol!


          2. AGeologist

            Regarding pit mining. The realm of their activities is upstream of the acquifer. Look at the Berkeley pit to see the potential cost ( There the mine’s water got into the water supply due oversight by the mine. The google map shoes you what a dead spot looks like. Pretty awful.

            Depending on the type of acquifer (some serve as their own filter), this could have even broader damage had the pit infiltrated a deeper reservoir. However, the petroleum systems are generally 1000’s of feet below surface and separated from the acquifers. Further, they are not upstream of the acquifer(rain -> soil -> water table -> conduit for acquifer recharge).

            As for playing dumb. Sure, as a scientist I am generally critical of poorly supported and often misdiagnosed claims of cause & effect. We humans are wired to find patterns whether or not they are real. We are also insatiable in our appetite for sensationalist reports. I’m not offering a defense a-la Exxon (there is not global warming) or Phillip Morris (tobacco has no harmful effects) as I’ve pointed to potential downsides. I think there are industry practices which should be watched more closely (how wastewater is handled and treated and gas leaking from pipelines and fittings). I’m merely pointing out the concern for frac’ing, which has been going on for decades with a incredibly low occurence of downside activity, is often overblown and driven by an agenda(coal in the US & Russia in France) and conservative(small “c”) emotions rather than informed rational.

            I am surely less informed on some of the issues faced by the landowners than some here. However, it is important to be sure that:
            1)that the percieved downside is actually damaging (very small earthquakes)
            2)the percieved downside is actually caused by frac’ing (if it is caused by other industry activity I’m all for dropping a hammer on the correct source of risk)
            3)that the risk is unmitigable warrenting a ban rather than regulation

            As for France. How much do you think they’ve thought this through? They’ve axed their nuclear commitments and are ending their gas potential granting the Russian pipeline a near monopoly on their energy access. Genius. If they really have a strategy then they clearly think the technology of well stimulation is far more dangerous than anyone working with the wells day to day who ought to have more concern for their own skin than for the industry.

          3. Skippy

            “Paradoxically, when Christ sets up His Kingdom” – Beard

            Duoooood, its been just around the corner for yonks and the olds thought they had their man, we know how that story ended. He wrote a best seller and it is the only reason we know anything about it all!

            Skippy… some folks thought derivatives were the path to untold well being too, oh well… sigh.

          4. Skippy

            wrong comment above, amends.


            Thanks for your candor, appreciated. At the end of the day energy is an activity related conundrum, there are alternatives besides increased extraction… eh. We have a human problem, a multi-faceted problem set, hence the discussion should mirror the problem set.

            Skippy… the past seems to be, a what not to do affair.

          5. Nathanael

            “anyone working with the wells day to day who ought to have more concern for their own skin than for the industry.”

            It’s hard to make a man realize something when his paycheck depends on him not realizing it.

            Even when what he needs to realize is that what he’s doing to get his paycheck is *killing him*.

            We have hundreds of years of evidence of this behavior from mine and factory workers.

          6. Nathanael

            “3)that the risk is unmitigable warrenting a ban rather than regulation”

            It is. This is absolutely clear with respect to fracking.

  9. curlydan

    darn. I was hoping it was the AMA coming out against fracking–I guess that would have been too much to ask.

    The fact that fracking is so closely tied to the water we drink, yet the process of fracking can go around the Clean Water Act is crazy. Cheney made it happen! Is there anything that man touched that didn’t turn out to be a disaster?

  10. Mcmike

    The drillers overreached when they went after the populated east, fracking entered the lexicon of the new york watershed – no longer just poor people and rednecks.

  11. mac

    I guess “don’t drink downstream of the herd” has been joined by “don’t drink close to the fracker”>

  12. mack

    Not just fracking; need moratorium pending long term studies on Smart Meters (to), and revision of FCC safety standards on EMF/RF exposures which do not take into account today’s saturation of multiple sources, and only consider ionizing sources (and heating) but not non-ionizing which also cause changes to cells.

  13. MIWill

    We can just buy more bottled water. It comes from the grocery store instead of water tables, so it should be ok.

  14. AGeologist

    Beware Coal: A guarded defense of frac’ing

    Frac’ing is old technology. In order to make petrochemicals flow through rock formations fluids are pumped to dissolve (think acid + limestone), fracture(imagine inflating an air bubble in your crispy toast), emulsify (soap+oil in water), stimulate (CO2 fizz when you open your coke bottle), and handle many other issues which occur as petrochemicals move down a pressure gradient and mix with other oils. This is known as stimulation. There are some really really nasty chemicals pumped and sometimes they are found in contaminated water supplies.

    The narrative spun here implies the frac-ing process is dangerous. In the industry there is much effort put into understanding what has been stimulated because the details of well spacing and efficient stimulation greatly affect the economics of a field. We rarely exceed 1500′ stimulation out from the well (evidence when wells become in pressure communication and imaged microseismic events). It is an incredibly unlikely to expect a stimulated fracture would grow across 10’000ft of rock to contaminate an aquifer is unphysical. Though nobody knows the precise arrangement of the induced fractures created in a well, or which of those remain open pathways along which fluid may migrate, we do know physical limits on what might reasonably be expected.

    It is more probably(see geomechanical primer below) that a failure along the wellbore and/or bad cement might allow fluide to flow outside the well casing upwards outside the pipe, and into a shallow aquifer. The fact that aquifers have been so polluted in the past, well before the recent anti-frac’ing buzz, serves as evidence that there has not been a sudden increase in risky activity, and that the industry doesn’t exactly have a squeeky clean record. Although the industry will oppose it, we should ensure companies are accountable, and have remediation measures defined when small petroleum operations cut corners and go bankrupt leaving a mess (large firms can bear the costs).

    It is also important to note whence comes this fear of frac’ing. The shale plays you hear about are encroaching and overlapping coal production. Established coal lobbying groups are working hard to maintain their safe economic ties with states (who wants a competitor?). It’s very difficult to argue natural gas is cleaner and safer to extract and burn than is coal. Further, it is abundant in the US and we have the technology to use it. I sound like a pusher, but this is surely a question of risk-analysis which has become exceedingly politically charged.

    A Geomechanical primer:
    Think of geology as a layer cake only some layers are thin, crispy toast, some are silly putty, some are many thin sheets of glass, and some are iron plates. The pressures used to stimulate a reservoir are dissapated by the silly-putty layers while the iron plates are mechanically too strong for the pump and well to be able to break through. The toast can break quite easily and will allow fractures to propagate outward through the toast while any flex of the glass will cause it to shatter, but will then absorb the energy of the frac making further breakage very difficult. Clean acquifers are rarely located near petroleum systems which are usually deeper and would naturally contaminate them(acquifers) over the millenia as the process of developping a clean water acquifer occurs in shallow and permeable rock. The energy required to pump a frac job so large as to frac near the surface is both uneconomic and unphysical except in some rare situations.

    When a well is drilled, pipe is cemented into the well-bore and holes are punched in it to allow fluids to be pumped into targetted rock formations. Since there are fractures which form during the drilling process, there are sometimes unnoticed, or ignored, vertical pathways up along the length of the well which allow fluids to travel upward and infiltrate formations 1000’s of feet shallower. This requires no unphysical frac pressures to frac into shallow acquifers

    1. Aquifer

      “Though nobody knows the precise arrangement of the induced fractures created in a well, or which of those remain open pathways along which fluid may migrate, we do know physical limits on what might reasonably be expected.”

      Ah yes, physical limits on what might reasonably be expected. So I suppose all the crap that has been happening so far, including the seismic activity, and faucets you can light up were “reasonably expected”? And if so, why should one allow activity that might “reasonably be expected” to produce such results? If not, then of what use are “reasonable expectations” that do not track reality? Not to mention which I would think that in order to be able to make “reasonable expectations”, one should have some decent maps and models of the hydrogeology of the region. Alas and alack, the USGS has not had the time or wherewithal to accurately map the groundwater parameters in at least some, if not much, of the region to be fracked – such studies were on their “wish list” …

      “Although the industry will oppose it, we should ensure companies are accountable, and have remediation measures defined when small petroleum operations cut corners and go bankrupt leaving a mess (large firms can bear the costs).”

      Ah, yes, accountability – just like we made BP accountable in the Gulf. I love this term – accountability, as if somehow, even if you succeed in achieving it you can turn back the devastation caused or even prevent it from spreading. As you well know, groundwater, once polluted, takes decades to clear, if it ever does.

      It used to be said that you don’t know the worth of water ’til the well runs dry – but now it seems you don’t know the worth of water ’til it lights up the sink …

      Any trade of gas for water is a fool’s bargain – I suppose that is why we are considering it ….

      1. AGeologist

        Seismic activity: Have a look at how often resolvable seismic events occur( Then check the magnitude of events which have occurred near fields. Events below Mw4 will cause less shaking than a passing train. If you assume all of the events are due to industry injection (more will be due to drainage) what damage is being done?

        Burning water: There surely are examples of industry taking shortcuts and putting people at risk. However, many many water wells penetrate shallow coal seems which seep natural gas into the water well. The industry should be paying to study carbon compounds (ie. levels in areas before their activity, and they’ve done a poor job of it. Another more probable way to blame the industry for the gas would be shallow uneconomic reservoirs which contaminate stratigraphically nearby shallow aquifers vie communication as wells are drilled. Industry should be running the fairly simple study of the oils to prove/disprove this and establish the guidelines for drilling safe. There may well be areas where the target reservoirs are dangerously shallow and should simply not be allowed. Offshore drilling requires companies to identify chemosynthetic communities and frozen shallow methane. Why wouldn’t applying similar constraints to protect aquifers be reasonable? Calling for a flat out ban seems an indelicate and economically ignorant vote for coal.

        Risk: You should be thrilled the gulf oil spill occurred to a well owned by a major company with the cash available to handle that spill. If it had been a smaller firm we (our government) would have had to pay through the nose for another major (ie. Exxon or Chevron) to take the well and get it back under control since no other companies would be able to afford it. There would have been outrage afterward when they were eventually making money from the well we paid them to take. BP screwed up badly and I fully agree with you that we have to recognize the magnitude of downside risk (remember 2008 anyone?), however the gulf is also not a disaster area despite the volume of highly toxic dispersants pumped down to the spewing Macondo. I still find that unbelievable and await our discovery of some further damage we’ve yet to notice. So, what should we take from the Macondo lesson in risk. Certainly the blowout is more likely and dangerous than most firm thought even though few I know of would express surprise that BP was at the helm of that particular failure.

        Regarding risk of frac’ing, I’m only pointing out that the risk is being sensationalized for political gain, that the downside is generally poorly described and often insignificant (Mw 2 earthquakes are meaningless and common). The true and meaningful risk to aquifers is more likely a result of petroleum and water-well drilling practices and very local geology rather than due to deep frac’ing. Finally, the risk of leaving cheap gas in the ground requires us to believe the known(99% likelihood) environmental impacts of coal are preferable to the frac’ing risks(? likelihood) for the foreseeable future. Nuclear or amalgamated solar/wind/geothermal energy sources are too far off to consider yet.

        1. Aquifer

          “Industry should be running the fairly simple study of the oils to prove/disprove this and establish the guidelines for drilling safe. There may well be areas where the target reservoirs are dangerously shallow and should simply not be allowed.”

          I notice you say “should be running” and not “has run” – If they are not running these studies, why not? Could it “well” be because they are aware, or have reason to believe, that targeted areas are, indeed, shallow – but being shallow, are the cheapest to develop? Why study and produce damning evidence, when ignorance is more profitable?
          And in the absence of adequate aquifer mapping, how can you know where these intersections are?

          “You should be thrilled the gulf oil spill occurred to a well owned by a major company with the cash available to handle that spill.

          ….though few I know of would express surprise that BP was at the helm of that particular failure.”

          Yes, I am thrilled at how well BP handled it, aren’t you? BP had enough cash available, but had to spend it bribing politicians to keep them from holding it accountable
          i have trouble squaring those 2 statements – folks aren’t surprised that BP screwed up, but we are supposed to be glad it was a “major company” in charge?

          “however the gulf is also not a disaster area despite the volume of highly toxic dispersants pumped down to the spewing Macondo. I still find that unbelievable and await our discovery of some further damage we’ve yet to notice.”

          You are right, “unbelievable”, because not true – ask the folks who live there, and the docs treating them. Ask the marine biologists … No, not the ones hired by the gov’t or BP. Mother Nature is resilient, but not limitless. Do you really want to test those limits?

          “The true and meaningful risk to aquifers is more likely a result of petroleum and water-well drilling practices and very local geology rather than due to deep frac’ing.”

          Even if that is so, how do you get to the layers to be fracked without drilling those wells? And there will be many, many more wells drilled – in order to frack …

          You are assuming an ideal world where the risks not only can be but will be known, adequate measures not only can be but will be taken to prevent them. Dream on ..

          And you seem to assume that if we frack for gas, we wouldn’t mine for coal – we would do both. It is a world market and neither the gas nor the coal stays here. Companies from all over the world are licking their chops.

          I have a great deal of respect for geologists – but you live in a world of stone and clay which can be modeled and measured – the world of fracking is a world of plunder and profit, just like the world of the Macondo well or the Canadian tar sands – it will not be done responsibly and no one will be responsible ….

          1. Lambert Strether

            Well said on responsibility. It may be possible to run nuclear power plants safely. But (as at Fukushima) it’s not possible for this system of political economy to do so. The issues are not technical (or geological). And as somebody says upthread, losing our groundwater isn’t something we can back out of or remediate. Though I suppose the Big Carbon can go into the (privatized) water business. And after that, oxygen…

        2. Nathanael

          A flat out ban is the only economically sound thing to do.

          First, look up the USGS study showing that the fracking companies are falsifying (inflating) the reported amount of gas they can get out of shale.

          Then, look up the business model of the companies, from their annual reports. The business model is to report high first-year production and then sell the field to suckers.

          They wouldn’t be reselling if the field was as good as they claimed it was.

          Given that the entire fracking business model is based on fraud, banning it outright is the wisest *economic* thing to do, even apart from the environmental need to ban it.

          1. AGeologist


            This is common practice with all fields, not just stimulated gas plays. Because there isn’t permeable reservoir here as there is with the Saudi Oil fields, the wells have lots of production early then crash. Though there are surely some who purchase acreage and learn after that there is less remaining then they thought, the industry is populated by a range of companies able to live off the scraps of slightly larger companies as they require less overhead and can afford to chase more marginal dollars. Of course this raises a fair concern about potential for an economic game of hot-potatoe as the well nears a plug & abandon date, but the cost to do so is low and even a small mom & pop firm can be expected to handle these costs and safely abandon the well.

            Also, there is also increasing, and amazing, evidence that restimulating old gas wells can open new pore systems and return production to numbers equivalent to the first few months. I don’t think the industry is full of angels,

            Finally, you make a lot of arm waving claims but show no support. It appears as though you believe (dangerous word) companies are full of actively destruction seeking capitalist pigs trying to steal your world from under you. I wonder if there is any company you might support who hasn’t run a heavy PR campaign to make you feel (another dangerous word) good about their motives. I encourage you to look to evidence and support your case, otherwise you will find it hard to convince anyone to seek out and consider the merits of your opinions.

    2. Aquifer

      “When a well is drilled, pipe is cemented into the well-bore and holes are punched in it to allow fluids to be pumped into targetted rock formations. Since there are fractures which form during the drilling process, there are sometimes unnoticed, or ignored, vertical pathways up along the length of the well which allow fluids to travel upward and infiltrate formations 1000′s of feet shallower. This requires no unphysical frac pressures to frac into shallow acquifers”

      Thank you! I think that says it all …. if there wasn’t a physical connection between the gas formation and the aquifer before the well was drilled, there probably will be after, caused by the well itself. Then, having created a connection, you just add chemicals and Voila! Soup! But not the kind you would wish to serve …

      1. AGeologist

        Surely, if the cement job is poor and leaves an unobstructed conduit. Every well must run a tool which measures the cement coverage to prove the job was successful to the state. So, the risk exists if the cement job leaves the conduit and the tool fails to resolve it. Also, consider that if these were exceptionally common drilling companies would have great difficulty reaching frac pressures downhole because fluids would bleed off up the vertical pathway. The state could require simple pressure tests of wells to check integrity of the well bore rather than simply shutting off all drilling.

        1. Aquifer

          “The state could require simple pressure tests of wells to check integrity of the well bore rather than simply shutting off all drilling.”

          The state could do a lot of things, but it won’t, and even if it did on paper, there aren’t enough personnel to do it, or should we let the companies run their own tests? And if they fail the tests – doesn’t that mean the damage has been done and a conduit established for methane leakage even if no chemicals are injected?

          The state relies on the information supplied by the companies for its permits, it’s personnel are pressured to grant them – for the fees it gets. If the information is false, well who’s to know unless there is a problem and then it is too late …

          1. AGeologist

            Before stimulation no chemicals have been pumped down-hole. Also, the well can be plugged entirely as all non-productive wells must be at the end of their lifecycle.

    3. Travizm

      thanks AGeologist for providing some content that was otherwise missing from this and the source article.

      My problem is that I hate big-medicine at least as much as big-oil…..probably more since at least big-oil is recognized as a “baddy”.


    4. curlydan

      “Frac’ing is old technology.” Lordy have mercy! You might as well compare a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III computer to today’s latest laptop–hey, they’re both just home computers, right?

      No, horizontal fracking has taken a little used technique and expanded it exponentially with little regulation or care for the environment or water tables. Taking something exponential without any caution is a recipe for disaster–and it’s already happening.

  15. Conscience of a Conservative

    Still trying to sort out the arguments for and against fracking. The geologists all say it’s fine, but you do have the anecdotal stories about people in Pennsylvania lighting up the water coming out of their faucets. Without getting into that argument, I did want to point out two items
    1) Fracking is banned in France on aesthetic grounds, yet encourages their companies to come here
    2) Visit the former Communist States of Eastern Europe and look at the formerly mined mountains. They’re wastelands.

  16. Aquifer

    Do believe i saw this article – or another reference to this action.

    Glad to see more docs speaking out.

    Jill Stein, the Green running for Pres. is an MD. If you listen to her explain why she she is running, you will hear that she realized that treating patients in the office was not enough – when you had to send them back out into the world that was making them sick. She got involved in environmental issues, thinking, naively as she says, that if she just presented the facts to the pols they would do the right thing – finally she realized that sometimes you just had to “throw the bums out”. It is funny to watch her say this – rather unexpected to hear this phrase, but underscores her understanding of, and dedication to the issues.

    Watch what the NNU, National Nurses United, is doing – they are kick ass people – nurses are often fierce in protecting their patients. They too, have come to an understanding that the fight for health must encompass more than a fight for healthcare. It is tied up with all the issues traditionally bundled under the term social justice. Watch out, don’t mess with pissed off nurses.

    And then there is PNHP, Physicians for a National Health Plan – The Baucus Nine, who got arrested – among them Dr. Margaret Flowers, who got arrested again trying to deliver a message to Obama after he said he would entertain all suggestions, except, of course, single payer ….

    Then of course, there is the redoubtable Dr. Helen Caldicott – tireless in her fight against nuclear “energy”.

    I am so glad to see the medical profession standing up more and more – the white coats putting on their hiking boots and marching into the fray, understanding that silence is often a violation of the Hippocratic Oath ….

  17. Tom Parsons

    I suppose that I should support any anti-fracking effort, as I am strongly against the practice. But as an old chemist it disturbs me to see wildly exaggerated and alarmist claims like “benzene is a particularly nasty carcinogen”.

    Carcinogen, yes, but one of those that is so weak that only one study of a particular industrial-level exposure has produced any cases that could be linked to benzene.

    Before then, we all worked regularly with benzene as a solvent (I knew people who washed their hands with it, though most of us used acetone). Overreaction got it removed from research labs entirely, which was a great and unnecessary inconvenience, since it would have been easy to take adequate precautions and still get the benefit of this very handy solvent.

    Still, I suppose if overreaction is so strong a force that it can do such harm I should be pleased to see it also in the service of the anti-fracking fight, where it might do some good.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m going on the report of a chemist married to an MD, but that is admittedly not the same as having read the studies. However, there is now a lot of research suggesting that very low doses (as in ones formerly considered to be trivial) of multiple chemicals is far more dangerous than previously thought. Past studies are apparently at most on two chemical synergies, not multi-chemical effects.

      1. Skippy

        I would like to buttress your assertions, see.

        Chemical Sensitivity and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

        For example, neurotoxic chemicals have an affinity for lipids (fat). Like the outer coating of an electrical wire, the nervous system has a tissue made of fat cells called the myelin sheath to insulate the bioelectric messages traveling throughout the body. When myelin is damaged and develops scar tissue the result is known as Multiple Sclerosis.

        Neurotoxic chemical exposures are linked to Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease and other diseases of the nervous system. Each disease has its own set of symptoms.


        Wood-Preserving Chemicals, Multiple Sclerosis, And Neuropsychological Function

        Abstract: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is diagnosed when a patient has symptoms, relapsing or remitting over time, or over different parts of his body, that are consistent with neural lesions. The diagnosis of MS does not denote the cause of the lesions or of the illness.

        Neurotoxicity can injure the nervous system in ways that could mimic probably any neurological or psychiatric disease, including MS. Therefore, all patients with these diseases should be screened for neurotoxic causes of the illness. Screening should examine the constellation of symptoms consistent with neurotoxicity, as well as an occupational and environmental toxic chemical exposure history.


        My personal FAV

        Sweet Poison: What Your Nose Can’t Tell You About The Dangers of Perfume

        The problem is that fragrance products are not necessarily harmless, and many can cause some very unpleasant effects.

        Few people realize that there are at least 5,000 different chemicals used by the fragrance industry in the manufacture of fragrance products. Nor do they realize that a fragrance product such as perfume may contain as many as 600 individual chemical ingredients.

        Of the 5,000 different chemicals used in fragrance products, less than 20% have been tested and reported as toxic. Many of those chemicals that have been tested are regulated by the federal government as hazardous materials. The remaining chemicals have not been toxicity tested, so the health effects and regulatory potential are unknown.

        Of the 150 highest volume chemicals used in fragrance products, more than 100 can be identified in the air of a room using sophisticated testing techniques. Most of these 100 chemicals are known to be toxic.

        Technically, the Food and Drug Administration oversees fragrances under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic act. Although the FDA has jurisdiction, they actually administer very little control over fragrance products, allowing the fragrance industry to police itself. As a result, only about 16% of cosmetic products on the market have been tested for toxicity. Thus, the FDA really knows very little about the health effects of fragrance products because they do not require manufacturers to prove their products are safe. It literally requires an act of congress before the FDA can intervene with the fragrance industry to protect public health interests. However, movements to increase the documentation of adverse reactions to fragrance products with the FDA hopefully will illustrate the need for more stringent oversight of the fragrance industry.

        Skippy… anyway were soaking it it, couple of hundred years and we know jack. Test results generations down the road…!!!

        Kids for a Better Future take on Dow Chemicals

        Generations of Great Chemistry

        Oh shite, I can’t help my self now>

        Dow Chemical Addresses Consumerism Megatrend

  18. gs_runsthiscountry

    “Gas producers should set up a foundation to finance studies on fracking …”

    I’ll take “most absurd statements” for 600 Alex.

  19. Roger Bigod

    I find the industry’s approach exceedingly offensive. They’re injecting 50 different chemicals in the fracking fluid and won’t disclose the ingredients because they’re proprietary. They can’t have done any testing for whether most of the chemicals are effective, much less safe. There’s just too many possibilities, especially for one company to work out. And this voodoo stew is going to be down there forever. The organics will probably degrade or adsorb out, but it still sounds irresponsible.

    1. Nathanael

      It’s part of a financial scam they’re running, as I’ve noted above. They lie about how much gas the wells will produce. The wells produce a lot the first year, then drop off sharply; but by then the fracking companies have sold them off to suckers, and collected their executive compensation.

      The *entire fracking industry* is a scam.

  20. Conscience of a Conservative

    We have to decide as a country where we get our energy , in a practical and responsible way. If we ban Nuclear(radiation), Deep Sea drilling(the oceans ecology), fracking (drinking water), hydro-elecric (dams kill fish), ethanol( we make beef expensive) we’re not left with any practical alternatives. Solar & Wind are not capable of supplying our energy needs, and require massive tax-payer funds(money from our left pocket to subsidize our right pocket). Perhaps we just need to make sure that the government is making sure the drillers are following sensible guidelines. One can’t just be against everything.

    1. sleeper

      Sorry, but the US does have the capacity and resources to meet it’s energy needs.

      Wind – DOE study shows that wind if supported could meet 20% of our needs by 2030.
      Hydropower – Existing dams with power generation equipment could be repowered with more efficient turbines. And existing dams (some 80,000) could be retrofitted with power generation equiment to meet an additional 5% of our needs
      Energy efficiency – lighting – Major improvements in lighting are presently underway – think T-8 and T-5 lamps not to mention LED lighting systems
      Energy Efficiency – Air conditioning – Condensing boilers are now common with rated efficiencies above 90% while we are beginning to see real efficiency changes in chillers.

      Sufficient unused generating capacity and energy efficiency measures presently exist to avoid the need to invest in new coal or nuclear plants.

      1. Skippy

        15 trillion down the drain, aw time to get skinny, the whats that could have been… ????

        Skippy… but that don’t supper size my yacht or my personal freedom!

      2. Conscience of a conservative

        I don’t buy it. Energy is not limited to a market. The United States is a large consumer of fossil fuels. It will take decades for the technologies and prices to make alternatives a significant contributor, in the meantime if we cut off local supplies, intl markets be that as they are, the price goes up, gdp goes down and incomes with it.
        And I replaced my lights with energy efficient lighting and well contrary to the packaging, my bills have not gone down and the light bulbs die well short of the advertised life expectancy.

        1. Skippy

          Less work and more play.

          Skippy… stuff gdp, its a mill stone around our necks, literally. Unless you like that kinda thang.

      3. Lafayette


        You’ve missed two of the most important, employed for residential heating (both water and ambient temperature), which are both geothermal and aerothermal heat pumps.

        The former take heat from the earth at a depth of 3 feet, the earth’s temperature is a uniform 50/60°F (see here throughout the year. This depends, however, where you live. The further north in latitude, the deeper one finds that temperature range.

        The same for aero-thermal pumps, which take heat from the ambient air surrounding a house – which are, however, less effective in northern climates where winter temperatures can be sub-freezing for extended periods of time.

        Such devices work also in reverse fashion to cool a house during the hot summer months.

        And, according to WikiP, geothermal devices can benefit from local tax credits. See here. (Filter the listing by employing “residential” in the Eligibility pop-down window.)

        We should think twice when building or buying a residential property about its energy effective. For instance, in France, any residential property requires an “Energy Evaluation Certification”, which gives buyers a good idea of the cost that they will incur to heat the property.

  21. Buddy

    My sister is a cosmetology major and she says the chemicals used in fracking are very similar to Oil of Olay Wrinkle remover so we will all we looking much younger as well as having cheaper energy. I believe her because she has an online cosmetology degree from Phoenix.

  22. Lafayette


    YS: The fact that fracking is seen as a big enough public health risk to rally the normally apolitical medical profession (at least as far as measures ex health care reform are concerned) to call for intervention is striking.

    To this above, for consideration, should be added the fact that the French government has rescinded the three permits for fracking experiments (by a French oil company) in order to better study the consequences of the fracking process.

    The French are typically over-reactive on matters of national health, but better an over-reaction than lament deaths or illnesses due ingestion of carcinogenic byproducts from a contaminated water table.

    It’s a shame, however, that we, the sheeple, do not have the same sense of revolt when it comes to atmospheric pollution from the internal combustion engine (CO2). Ah, but that’s another matter, and affects our freedom of mobility?

    Not really – especially when you are in a casket six-feet under, due to a cancer related to atmospheric pollution. Your mobility is very definitely constrained – forever.

    Or the fuel we use to heat our houses? Or the coal to fire our electricity generating plants? These too are another matter?

    Not really. I’ve installed a geothermal heat-pump (here in France) and it does the job just fine, with an amazing reduction in total electricity costs. And its installation was subsidized by the French government. (France has only one major oil company and its impact upon policy making is limited. Thank you, Lord!)

    Besides, France generates close to three-quarters of electricity for residential use from nuclear plants. Which entails pollution of another sort, but certainly not deadly to the general French population.


    It is not easy to liberate energy generation from the carbon molecule – but the liberation technologies are there. So neither is it Mission Impossible. And it would be boosted, first and foremost, were we to pass a Carbon Tax on such products.

    And to hell with the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the Big Oil/Gas/Coal Industries as they witness their precious profit-margins evaporate like the morning dew. The consequence will be fewer 1%-ers from that industry, which is music to our ears.

    My words for the fracking industry that is swooning at the potential profits from that business are these: Frack you!

  23. AGeologist

    A good diagram here pointing out some of what I’ve said. While it is olny a schematic, note that the length of stimulated fractures is far less than the distance to acquifers. Of course if the well were turned horizontal very near the acquifer there would be a high risk. I’m all for defining no-go zones due to risk. The likelihood of a pristine acquifer overlying a gas play is low for a multitood of reasons however.

    1. Nathanael

      Please look up “water wells”, which are used for water supply in the vast majority of rural areas.

      Then please look up the quality standards and business model of the fracking companies. If you trust their well cementing, you’re crazy. The stuff WILL get into the water supply of people’s water wells.

      …And it does, as proven repeatedly in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. The frackers are running a scam, so they generally just lie about it, but there’s video footage and documented chemical tests.

      1. Nathanael

        I think your key error is imagining that the fracking companies are responsible companies. There is ample evidence that they are not. And that if required by law to be truly responsible, they will either break the law or shut up shop. In Pennsylvania they choose to break the laws, because they know the laws aren’t enforced. At the federal level, they hired Dick Cheney to *change* the law to make water pollution legal.

        This tells you something: fracking is unprofitable unless it involves water pollution. They wouldn’t try so hard to pollute the water if they could be profitable without it.

  24. AGeologist

    A bit more evidence I’m not trying to be a shill for the industry. This is evidence but even the authors note their uncertainty about the path into the water:

    “There are at least three possible mechanisms for fluid migration into the shallow drinking-water aquifers that could help explain the increased methane concentrations we observed near gas wells (Fig. 3). The first is physical displacement of gas-rich deep solutions from the target formation. Given the lithostatic and hydrostatic pressures for 1-2 km of overlying geological strata, and our results that appear to rule out the rapid movement of deep brines to near the surface, we believe that this mechanism is unlikely. A second mechanism is leaky gas-well casings (e.g., refs. 27 and 28). Such leaks could occur at hundreds of meters underground, with methane passing laterally and vertically through fracture systems. The third mechanism is that the process of hydraulic fracturing generates new fractures or enlarges existing ones above the target shale formation, increasing the connectivity of the fracture system. The reduced pressure following the fracturing activities could release methane in solution, leading to methane exsolving rapidly from solution (29), allowing methane gas to potentially migrate upward through the fracture system. Methane migration through the 1- to 2-km-thick geological formations that overlie the Marcellus and Utica shales is less likely as a mechanism for methane contamination than leaky well casings, but might be possible due to both the extensive fracture systems reported for these formations and the many older, uncased wells drilled and abandoned over the last century and a half in Pennsylvania and New York. The hydraulic conductivity in the overlying Catskill and Lockhaven aquifers is controlled by a secondary fracture system (30), with several major faults and lineaments in the research area (Fig. 2 and Fig. S1). Consequently, the high methane concentrations with distinct positive ?13 C-CH4 and ?2 H-CH4 values in the shallow groundwater from active areas could in principle reflect the transport of a deep methane source associated with gas drilling and hydraulic-fracturing activities. In contrast, the low-level methane migration to the surface groundwater aquifers, as observed in the nonactive areas, is likely a natural phenomenon (e.g., ref. 31). Previous studies have shown that naturally occurring methane in shallow aquifers is typically associated with a relatively strong biogenic signature indicated by depleted ?13 C-CH4 and ?2 H-CH4 compositions (32) coupled with high ratios of methane to higher-chain hydrocarbons (33), as we observed in Fig. 4B. Several models have been developed to explain the relatively common phenomenon of rapid vertical transport of gases (Rn, CH4 , and CO2 ) from depth to the surface (e.g., ref. 31), including pressure-driven continuous gas-phase flow through dry or water-saturated fractures and density-driven buoyancy of gas microbubbles in aquifers and water-filled fractures (31). More research is needed across this and other regions to determine the mechanism(s) controlling the higher methane concentrations we observed.”

Comments are closed.