If you’ve followed the entire debate on fracking, you probably know the drill (no pun intended) by now. Industry experts insist that their methods for hydraulically fracturing the shale beds below the earth and extracting natural gas is technologically sound and completely safe — and that the naysayers are granola-eating Luddites who oppose anything new and would prefer to live in a dark, energy-free world.
That’s ridiculous to anyone who’s seen the devastating impact that fracking has already had on large swatches of rural America, such as upstate Pennsylvania. But a story came out in the last week that is very important — not to mention unusual. A retired top executive from Big Oil is admitting that not only is fracking hazardous to your health — but it’s worse than you think.
Louis W. Allstadt was an executive vice president for Mobil who at one point oversaw all of the oil giant’s exploration and production operations in the Western Hemisphere. In 2000, he retired to an idyllic rural community in Cooperstown, N.Y. (yes, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame) — but then he educated himself on the fracking process, at the behest of friends after natural gas drillers began to look at rural south-central New York. He was appalled at what he learned. Allstadt recently told the website Alternet that the biggest problem is the release of methane trapped under the earth, which is happening at a greater rate than industry experts had forecast and which contributes mightily to global warming.
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.
Allstadt — as a former industry official — doesn’t believe that his former cohorts are evil, but he does think they’re acting in a short-sighted fashion as they look for ways to expand domestic energy production now that the easier sources have been largely tapped out. He also believes that the gas companies are putting too much faith in their ability to cap the wells:
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.
So far, Allstadt’s activism has been largely in his local community in New York. As such, he’s been part of a hugely successful campaign, since state officials have continued to extend a statewide moratorium on the controversial process. But I hope he brings his knowledge and his insights to a national audience — as soon as possible. America needs to hear Allstadt’s message before the damage to the global climate is too far gone.
To read the entire interview with Louis Allstadt at Alternet, please go to: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/17605-former-mobil-vp-warns-of-fracking-and-climate-change
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