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Fracking experts debate economic, environmental impact

Jan 24, 2013 at 01:54 pm by Observer-Review


Fracking experts debate economic, environmental impact

STARKEY--More than 250 residents attended the Starkey town board sponsored debate on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) between Dr. Terry Engelder of Penn State and Dr. Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University Wednesday, Jan. 23 at the Dundee Central High School Auditorium. The debate was moderated by long-time Starkey Resident Jack Ossont and posed the question "Should New York State and/or Starkey township allow high volume shale gas extraction?" Each expert had the opportunity to give a 30 minute slideshow presentation before participating in the debate, where they answered questions submitted by the crowd. The stance of each expert is as follows:
Dr. Terry Engelder
Engelder is a professor of geosciences at Penn State and has served on the staffs of the U.S. Geological Survey, Texaco and Columbia University. Working with SUNY Fredonia professor Gary Lash, they made a prediction in 2008 projecting a recoverable 50 trillion cubic feet of the 516 trillion cubic feet Marcellus Shale, which prompted a rush of gas development interest in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Engelder has taken a stance in support of natural gas development, giving the following reasons as to why Starkey should keep an open mind when it comes to permitting fracking in the area:
•    Engelder said a majority of people are primarily concerned with keeping the lights on at a reasonable cost. He said when there is a conflict between policies around economic growth and climate preservation, economic growth will win every time. When it comes to the future of energy development in the U.S., Engelder said "It's all about natural gas. There is no other route."
•    "Don't close out your options," Engelder said. He said while the Marcellus in Starkey is not deep enough to be economic, development in New York State should remain a viable option to help reduce energy costs. Engelder said Pennsylvania has benefitted greatly from the fracking industry and has seen gas prices collapse since the beginning of natural gas development.
•    When asked about noise and truck traffic from the gas wells, Engelder said "the rigs are so expensive, you have got to run them all the time, but once they are done, they go away." He said one well takes anywhere from two to four days to complete once it has been fracked, and once the work is complete on it, the workers go home. Engelder said there has been some impact on towns where workers have sought housing, but some pads are so large they can house their workers right on it, with the impact to the community only being temporary as it reaps the long-term rewards.
•    Engelder downplayed the threat of water contamination in the Finger Lakes from fracking fluid, saying road salt making its way into the water table is more of a risk to the water quality. He said traces of methane found in a private or public water source is not poisonous, and the large size of the lakes would prevent any chemical spill from having an impact on the water quality or ecosystem.
•    Engelder said the impact of leaked methane in the atmosphere does not contribute as much to global warming and climate change as carbon-dioxide. He said the half-life of methane is so short, it does not really matter how much of it is leaking into the atmosphere. Engelder also said there are in fact a few gas wells already in the Finger Lakes region, and if they haven't caused any problems in the past 100 years, they are unlikely to cause any problems in the future.
•    Engelder said the fracking process will become safer as time goes on, and the more fracking is practiced, the better the industry will get at it. He cited the auto industry as an example during his presentation, saying there were almost as many automobile related deaths in 1972 as there were during the entirety of the Vietnam War, but in the years since has become four times safer due to improving industry standards. Engelder said accidents will happen and that "the world of sustainability will require a tremendous amount of sacrifice," but it is a necessary sacrifice as industry evolves and learns to do things more safely.
•    Engelder said fracking does not cause any seismic activity significant enough to cause any damage to nearby properties. He said when fracking, there can be small pops of energy that cause subseismic activity, which Ingraffea said have been recorded as high as 3.5 on the Richter Scale in British Columbia, but this is only strong enough to "rattle the bookshelves." Engelder said generally companies avoid drilling in known fault zones, and that the seismic activity in the undetectable fault zones is not capable of causing earthquakes of concern.
Dr. Anthony Ingraffea
Ingraffea is a professor of engineering at Cornell University as well as the president of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy Inc., which expresses safety concerns regarding the current fracking process. He was  a former researcher on what the best way to fracture dark shales, like the Marcellus Shale, in order to harvest the natural gas deposits, but has since left the fracking industry to research the impact of the process on people and the environment. Ingraffea answered the debate question with a firm "no," giving the following reasons as to why Starkey should not allow fracking in its township:
•    "The single most important thing we can do to delay climate change is limit the amount of methane going into the atmosphere," Ingraffea said. He said the methane contributing to climate change was put into atmosphere in the past 10 years, and it is much more potent than the carbon dioxide that has been put into atmosphere since the 1700s. Ingraffea said going at the current rate, the ice caps and Greenland will melt and the ocean will rise four meters. He said from the view of the environmental impact of fracking, the cost is too high.
•    "We still do not know how to quantify the risk," Ingraffea said. He said studies on the impact of high volume hydraulic fracturing are still incomplete, and until the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) develops its own science-based, probabilistic estimate of  immediate and long-term rate of well failures, there is no rational way of costing the risk . Ingraffea said before the state develops policy on fracking, they need to know if the gas industry could, would and should do it right.
•    Ingraffea said industry standards have not improved since the beginning of drilling in Pennsylvania. In 2010, Ingraffea said there was a 6 percent rate of well failures in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Play, which increased to 7.1 percent in 2011 and 8.9 percent in 2012. "The industry is doing as well as it can," Ingraffea said. "This is as good as they can do."
•    Ingraffea said New York State has had almost five years to think things through about fracking that areas like Pennsylvania did not. He said Pennsylvania "opened the barn doors in 2007 and semi chaos has happened." Ingraffea said while New York should have done more to look at the issue during this time, he said it is not too late.
•    Ingraffea said the concentration of pads and wells in an area would be detrimental to the communities, industries and environment surrounding it. He said to economically develop shale gas production, gas companies must use clustered, multi-well pads and high volume long laterals, saying there would be a pad every mile to mile and a half in each direction. Ingrafea's example was Tioga county in Pennsylvania, where Shell had leased up 30 percent of the county and had spatially intense development there with six to 12 wells per pad.
•    Ingraffea quoted Engelder as saying the payout from fracking might not come until 2042. "2042 is too late," Ingraffea said. "That bridge is a bridge too far. We won't ever get to the other end." He said the focus on renewable energy like solar and wind need to be invested in now, and that New York State could be entirely self-sufficient, driven by wind, water and solar power by 2030. Ingraffea said people might think that is "a hell of a lot of work," but he said installing 50,000 to 100,000 wells is also a lot of work.
•    Ingraffea said shale gas development requires hundreds of thousands of new wells that have an unacceptable rate of failure to contain hydrocarbon migration. He said leaking pipes will put methane into atmosphere, and that 2.5 percent of wells leak immediately, with a higher failure rate as they age. Ingraffea said 5 to 6 percent of all natural gas production in the U.S. is not even being burnt, but being vented into the atmosphere, which combined with surface spills, backflow, damage to concrete containers, and putting "two and a half times the tonnage of the entire U.S. Navy" worth of steel into the ground would have a catastrophic effect on the environment of an area.

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