The surge in energy company drilling for deep-rock natural gas has generated a matching surge in complaints of water contamination, including faucets pouring out so much methane gas that you can light it (video) with a match. The drillers, which include Exxon and other major energy operators, long denied the contamination had anything to do with their explosive rock-fracturing operations. Now, drillers are slamming a study that strongly links the methane contamination with gas drilling–saying the research is invalid because it lacked data that is being kept secret by the industry itself.
It’s like the way BP pushed the public face of its cheery green and yellow flower logo and its “Beyond Petroleum” slogan while it ruthlessly slashed safety and maintenance until its Texas refinery exploded, its Alaska pipeline rusted through and its Gulf of Mexico well collapsed in flame.
Here’s the gist of the Pro Publica account of the latest gas drilling Catch-22:
For years the natural gas drilling industry has decried the lack of data that could prove—or disprove—that drilling can cause drinking water contamination. Only baseline data, they said, could show without a doubt that water was clean before drilling began.
The absence of baseline data [i.e. a study of the water's quality before drilling began] was one of the most serious criticisms leveled at a group of Duke researchers last week when they published the first peer-reviewed study linking drilling to methane contamination in water supplies.
That study—which found that methane concentrations in drinking water increased dramatically with proximity to gas wells—contained “no baseline information whatsoever,” wrote Chris Tucker, a spokesman for the industry group Energy in Depth, in a statement debunking the study.
Now it turns out that some of that data does exist. It just wasn’t available to the Duke researchers, or to the public.
The data–tests of thousands of private drinking water wells conducted by the industry itself–is from Pennsylvania, home of some of the most severe water contamination complaints. As Robert Jackson, one of the Duke University researchers, said, “The industry is sitting on hundreds of thousands of pre and post drilling data sets. I asked them for the data and they wouldn’t share it.”
Chesapeake Energy, the driller that tested the Pennsylvania wells, says the tests prove that some wells were contaminated with methane before drilling began. But until it shares that data–or is forced to share it–no one can say how much of that statement is the truth.
The drilling companies also resisted for years even telling regulators, much less the public, what and how much of toxic and carcinogenic drilling chemicals went into the copious water they shoot down wells to force out the natural gas.
The natural gas lobby portrays its product as an environmental darling, emitting much less pollution and greenhouse gases when it’s burned. But behind the green screen is a secretive industry intent on drilling deep without any public discussion of the environmental and health danger of getting to the natural gas.