Instead of signing away her property to one of the many land men knocking on her door, she decided to attend a chamber of commerce luncheon where Chesapeake CEO McClendon boasted of the economic benefits of fracking. "So I went home and looked into it and discovered that some of these companies had enormous amounts of debt," Rogers says. "It was more likely that they were drilling to meet debt service rather than for profitability."

Rogers describes fracking as a "drilling treadmill" based solely on hype. As soon as a geologist like Engelder reports a massive reserve, the industry immediately hypes what it calls "a play," with each advertised as bigger and better than the last, from the Barnett Shale in Texas to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

Gas companies quickly lease land and begin drilling at incredible rates of production. In the first year, everything looks great. But production soon drops as thousands of wells dry up, sometimes within 12 months.

Kevin June
Mark Hewko
Kevin June
Dr. Tony Ingraffea
Courtesy of Cornell University
Dr. Tony Ingraffea

"Only 20 percent of wells drilled will actually make money," Rogers says. "Eighty percent can easily be uneconomic. That is a whole lot of land used up in a search for 20 percent of the wells that will make money. Eighty-five percent of wells are abandoned in the first five years. And seven years is the average life of a well, rather than the 30 promised by industry."

But while the money quickly stops, Bush, Cheney, and Congress made sure the industry has no responsibility for cleaning up the pollution it leaves behind, which will plague residents for years to come. The insurance industry understands the threat. Some of the biggest carriers, such as Nationwide, won't even offer fracking coverage to homeowners.

Still, the industry uses its initial figures to sell drilling as a long-term gold rush. Not only do the companies overestimate earnings to landowners, but they are also able to borrow huge sums of money against these exaggerated estimates.

"After a decade of fracking, we're beginning to be able to show that, without a doubt, this was simply a very well-orchestrated public relations campaign," Rogers says. "There is gas there, but is there as much as they said? No. Are we gonna see the economic stability they promised? The answer is no."

Furthermore, the frenzy has flooded the natural gas market, where gas prices are at an all-time low thanks to overproduction.

In the end, Rogers says, the money these wells actually produce isn't enough to offset the cost of land rendered worthless thanks to contamination. In essence, the industry is creating thousands of mini Superfund sites, leaving someone else to deal with the ruin.

"Fracking is exempt under the Energy Act," Rogers says. "Now people have no recourse if they contaminate your aquifer or if they contaminate your air. They don't have to pay for it and they don't have to use pollution control devices that other industries have to use. They've basically been given a free ride by the federal government."

Rogers isn't the only person arguing that fracking isn't the economic savior promised by the industry. Recent studies by Penn State and Ohio State researchers show that the industry's boasts of prosperity have been grossly exaggerated.

Penn State found that half the land being drilled is owned by people from outside the state. Moreover, half the employees of fracking companies are also imported from elsewhere. "This would imply that a large portion of the economic benefits immediately leaves the communities being impacted by drilling," professor Timothy Kelsey says.

Worse, Pennsylvania has opted not to tax fracking ventures, buying the industry's claim that the state is the most expensive area to drill and a tax could make fracking economically unfeasible. As a result, the state has lost more than $300 million in potential revenue — while simultaneously slashing funding for everything from education to hospital trauma centers.

Critics note that Gov. Tom Corbett has received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the gas industry. Rogers says the same has been true in Texas and every other state where fracking has appeared.

"We've been experiencing the shale gas boom since 2005, and we are in horrible shape economically," she says. "Shale gas was supposed to be this economic powerhouse for the next 40 years, they said. It didn't even work out in the past seven. And it's the same story in every other state. Unfortunately, that's just how the game is played."

It's easy to ignore the fallout if you don't live in Dimock, Pennsylvania; or Wise County, Texas. But few parts of America remain untouched.

Though companies aren't drilling in Wisconsin or Minnesota, the industry's effects are certainly being felt. Both states offer rich supplies of fine sand called silica, used in fracking. In the past four years, sand mining in both states has doubled — along with the rates of respiratory problems associated with it. At least nine Minnesota cities have enacted moratoriums on mining, because treatment plants use toxic chemicals, presenting a threat to water supplies.

The U.S. Geological Survey further believes that an uncharacteristic surge of earthquakes throughout the Midwest is "almost certainly" related to gas companies disposing wastewater into deep-injection wells.

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6 comments
jozy32k
jozy32k

For all in favor of fracking: Why don't you move your family to these areas and see what your grandchildren and great grandchildren have to say with their birth defects and cancer. Y'all must be ostriches with you heads in that so called "sand". You want to talk about green energy, let's talk about what God DID give us, like solar power, wind power, etc. None of which pollute the land or it's people. We are a killer race and the one's we are killing are ourselves. I'm sure I'll get a bunch of flack for these comments, but in the end, y'all will have to answer to God for what you have done to his gift to us. 

gladesman
gladesman

This all sounds real BAD AND SAD but we need sources of energy.

 

Environmental agencies organizations do their best to obstruct every oil drilling venture that is planned and have stopped many over the years and continue to do so.

 

Maybe fracking wouldn't have become so popular if these well intentioned zealots had foreseen the unintended consequences of their efforts to stop liquid oil production all over America.

 

It looks as though fracking companies foresaw potential environmental attacks and had laws passed ahead of time to protect (armor plate) their investors and investments from environmental extremists attacks.

 

Until a few politicians have their water faucets light up in flames there probably won't be much corrective action taken.

erikdenning
erikdenning

Absolutely. The idea that pumping endless gallons of high water pressure mixed with literally hundreds of chemicals underground in attempts to tear apart the earth and release pockets of gasses can't in any way be harmful. It's nature's way and god's will. Who needs a stable underground anyway?

krs0
krs0

Sorry, but old man Mayer is nuttier than a shithouse rat.

 

john_ellingson
john_ellingson

The attack on fracking is an attack by the woefully uniformed; driven by ignorance and emotion and completely lacking in any evidence.

nicademus69_us
nicademus69_us

 @erikdenning Except it isn't hundreds of chemicals they pump into the ground. It's river water and sand. Occasionally they use glass beads instead of sand. These reason this guys has NG in his water is due to a bad casing and cement job. It's understandable for you to be worried but if people knew a little more about geophysics they would know that 95% of these made up scenarios are impossible. Drilling engineers wish their fracks did what these loony people say they do.

 
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