Jul 5 2013

API Targets NYS

New Energy Industry Campaign Pushes Fracking

For New York State; Sends Message to Governor, Legislators;

But Does “Not Warrant The Accuracy Of Information” on Website

The American Petroleum Institute (API) is sponsoring a multimedia campaign focused on New York State that recycles an old and discredited message:

“… there’s never been a single case of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.” Link: http://www.empireenergyforum.com/topics/hydraulic-fracturing

In an ironic footnote at the bottom of every page of the website, there is this warning in fine print (emphasis added):  “Any sponsors of this site do not warrant the accuracy of information contained herein, and expressly disclaim any liability whatsoever for the use of or reliance on the information presented.”

For those of us with actual experience in dealing with the energy industry, that statement summarizes the ever-present trust issue.

To the point of the multimedia campaign, the issue is the entire drilling process – from fracturing to cementing – not a limited segment of it.  For example, Richard Liroff, PhD., executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network, states (emphasis added):

Such risks [of shale drilling] are associated with the broad life cycle of shale operations including, for example, the transporting and storing water, waste and chemicals.  They are not limited to concern about hydraulic fracturing in its narrowest, technical sense.”1

Often, the most revealing statements regarding the risks of drilling via high-volume horizontal fracturing (HVHF) come from industry.

Industry Warnings on Safety, Trust

For example, Schlumberger (NYSE – SLB), a world leader in the oil and gas industry, warns:  “Despite recent advances in the cementing of oil and gas wells, many of today’s wells are at risk. … The environmental impact of contaminating a single fresh water aquifer is extremely serious.”2

The loss of public trust by energy companies is also well documented and acknowledged by industry executives across North America.3

Even a pro-industry white paper on the “Global Anti-Fracking Movement,” points out that, “… companies have lost public trust by discounting the legitimacy of grievances, prioritizing trade secrets over transparency and engaging government rather than communities.” 4

In addition, unlike API, the pro-industry white paper indicates that water contamination is an issue.  On page three of the white paper it states:

“For both coal and shale gas wells, water produced from the well (also known as ‘produced water’) is saline and toxic in high concentrations, requiring similar types of handling, treatment and disposal.”

Jonathan Wood, Associate Director of Strategic Analysis for Control Risks in London, explained to this writer in an e-mail: “… the paper was not commissioned by an external party, but rather produced as part of our efforts to interrogate topics and issues of potential interest to our clients and the wider risk management community.”

He adds that, “The industry, as we suggest in the paper, is beginning to pay much closer attention to this set of issues, out of desire and necessity.”

Perhaps not everyone gets the message.  The API’s multimedia campaign in New York State is supplemented by robo calls and weekly mailers.

One such mailer states:

13,000 oil and gas wells in New York

1 million hydraulically fractured nationally.

Zero incidents of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

In contrast, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) told this writer:  “There are approximately 4,000 abandoned or unreported wells on DEC’s priority plugging list.  There are approximately 35,000 wells for which DEC has no records.”

Neither New York State nor Pennsylvania track well failure rates.  Without knowing the failure rate, how does one measure the success rate?

Ask Right Question

Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.d., P.E., is the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering at Cornell University.  In response to my question, he commented on the claim of “zero incidents of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.”

“The right question to ask and have answered is:  ‘How many private water wells have experienced abrupt increases in one or more contaminants following nearby gas well development activities?’

“The answer is, nationwide, thousands in the last decade alone,” he states.

New York government officials often cite Pennsylvania as a benchmark for HVHF drilling.

Pennsylvania Benchmark

Yet even incomplete records from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reveal that “oil and gas development damaged the water supplies for at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses” in the five-year period between 2008-2012, according to The Sunday Times-Tribune of Scranton, PA.5

As interesting, those records had to be pried from the DEP through a court order.  Given the sloppy record keeping acknowledged by DEP, it is known that “the count is not exhaustive.”

In addition, a count of 18 contaminated water wells is collapsed by DEP to a count of one incident, as reported by The Sunday Times-Tribune.


Based on extensive data collected from DEP by EARTHWORKS’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project6, two additional benchmarks emerge from the Pennsylvania experience:

  • The number of violations at oil and gas wells has nearly tripled since 2008.  In 2011, for example, 4,069 violations were recorded by DEP, up significantly from 1,515 in 2008.  [See chart labeled “PA Enforcement Data.  Source:  EARTHWORKS]
  • Marcellus shale wells are an increasing percent of total violations.  In 2010, 45% of the total number of violations came from Marcellus shale wells – 1,273 out of a total of 2,861.
  • For many companies, well practices are getting worse not better over time.  “All but two companies (Chief and Anadarko) had more violations in 2011 than in previous years, and many operators have had consistently large numbers of violations for three years running (e.g., Chesapeake, Cabot, Chief, Range, XTO, Ultra),” according to EARTHWORKS.  [See chart labeled “Table 9 Trends.”  Source:  EARTHWORKS]

Table 9 Trends in violations for the top offenders in Pennsylvania

Meanwhile, “New York struggles to adequately govern its existing oil and gas wells, and DEC is not prepared to oversee the expected shale gas boom,” as noted in an EARTHWORKS’ “Enforcement Report – NYS DEC.”6

Among other warning signs, “75 percent of active oil and gas wells in New York were not inspected in 2010.”  That’s nearly 8,000 wells.

To compound the problem, “Unlike other state oil and gas agencies, New York’s DEC does not yet keep oil and gas violations in a publicly accessible electronic database, not does it publish statistics on violations in the DMR [Division of Mineral Resources] annual report or on its web site,” according to EARTHWORKS.

Transparent Lip Service

Both government and industry tout commitment to transparency – usually until citizens want specific answers to drilling and regulatory questions.  In New York State, Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a “secret” health review that will supposedly guide a decision on HVHF.  Health Commissioner Nirav Shah is charged with the task.

For a change, even industry is fed up with the secrecy.  As reported in The Ithaca Journal7:

“No one – and certainly no one in industry — has any idea of what this so-called health review is,” said Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council. “You would think that if there was some sort of comprehensive review being done by the health commissioner, they certainly would at least involve the public, the industry, the environmental groups in what they’re doing.”

Unless, that is, New York State does “not warrant the accuracy of information” and disclaims “any liability whatsoever” in its evaluation of shale drilling.

Links & Resources

1 Investors Bring $1 Trillion of Pressure on Hydraulic Fracturing Industry; Demand Disclosure & Commitment to Measurable GoalsSpectra Energy Watch, June 10, 2012:  http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=1614

2 This warning is from the introduction to Schlumberger’s book, Well Cementing (Second Edition, 2006) by Eric B. Nelson and others.

3 Energy leaders urge transparency to win public supportHouston Chronicle, by Zain Shauk, Simone Sebastian, March 7, 2012 – http://www.chron.com/business/article/Energy-leaders-urge-transparency-to-win-public-3390421.php

4 The Global Anti-Fracking Movement – What it Wants, How it Operates and What’s Next –  See p. 2.  For a downloadable copy of this white paper: http://www.controlrisks.com/OurThinking/Pages/The-Global-Anti-Fracking-Movement.aspx

5 Sunday Times review of DEP drilling records reveals water damage, murky testing methodsThe Times-Tribune, by Laura Legere, May 19, 2013 http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/sunday-times-review-of-dep-drilling-records-reveals-water-damage-murky-testing-methods-1.1491547

6 EARTHWORKS – Several relevant white papers are available for download on this website.  The reports compile and analyze shale gas/oil data from regulatory agencies in many states.  Refer to the following:

7 Transparency battle unites fracking advocates, opponentsThe Ithaca Journal, by Jon Campbell, May 31, 2013: http://www.lohud.com/article/20130531/NEWS/305310056/Transparency-battle-unites-fracking-advocates-opponents

NOTE:  This article is cross-posted on the Accountability Central website at this link:  http://www.accountability-central.com/nc/single-view-default/article/voices-from-the-shale-control-risks-api-targets-new-york-state-with-multimedia-campaign-to-push/    Accountability Central is part of the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.


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