Fracking Dilemma – It’s Not the Promised Land

cover for the movie "promised land"

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I recently went to see the new movie Promised Land starring Matt Damon, as rising star salesman Steve Butler. What does Steve sell? The promised glory to landowners if only they’ll sell off the rights to their land so the power companies can drill for natural gas on their property. Steve makes up figures and tosses out promises so some desperate landowners in western Pennsylvania are convinced they’ll become millionaires, if only they’ll allow the drilling. He doesn’t go into detail about the process, which is called fracking. Fracking allows drillers to go deep into the earth to extract natural gas. Recently, in states sitting on the rich resource, some homeowners have water so contaminated with chemicals they ignite.

The Associated Press published an article this past week that suggests the Environmental Protection Agency may be shying away from bringing charges against the companies using the method of “hydraulic fracturing.”

The article leads with this paragraph: WEATHERFORD, Texas (AP) — When a man in a Fort Worth suburb reported his family’s drinking water had begun “bubbling” like champagne, the federal government sounded an alarm: An oil company may have tainted their wells while drilling for natural gas.

But then the EPA changed its mind and decided to leave the company alone.

The movie Promised Land has been vilified by the natural gas industry for painting an unfair portrait of fracking. The Marcellus Shale Coalition  even purchased ads to run before the movie. When we saw the movie, the ad played about ten minutes before the show so when the movie started, the ad was forgotten and not seen by the twenty or so folks who came in afterwards.

The industry says the process of fracking is safe. Scientists, environmentalists, and some who live close to the drilling sites say differently. It’s a dilemma, and one faced by Steve Butler in the movie once he begins to see his victims as real human beings he’s lying to. The fact is he doesn’t really know anything about the science behind the drilling. He’s just in their homes to sell a pipe dream.

It’s a complicated issue, and it needs much more study before we go any further. Even the Sierra Club first endorsed the process because they felt natural gas was the solution to ridding the world of “dirty coal.” But not anymore. Now they put fracking in the same category as coal mining.

The Promised Land is a work of fiction with a particular viewpoint that explores the dilemma of bringing natural gas up out of the ground fast and cheap. I’ve heard criticisms of the ending, but I’m not sure I understand why. I won’t give it away here because I’d like you to go see the movie and make up your own mind. It’s important to remember the movie is a fictional account of one man’s struggle between his job and his moral integrity.  It’s up to him to decide if the two are mutually exclusive. And guess what? It ends the way the writer decided to end it. Period.

 

 

Fracking Power

Sierra magazine published an article in its July/August 2012 issue called the “Fracking Nightmare.” I read the article with interest since I live atop the Marcellus shale region of western Pennsylvania. Washington County considered the “honeypot” for the “wet gas” resources underground. Those resources include propane, butane, ethane and other profitable chemicals.

Interestingly, until 2010, the Sierra Club supported natural gas as a “clean” alternative to coal and its coal-burning power plants. But this practice of pulling the gas up out of the ground was rushed into production with coal’s nasty image tarnished and rising oil prices without much consideration of what it takes to get the natural gas out of the ground.

It’s a brutal practice outlined in the article. The farmers, who thought allowing the drilling on their lands and who thought it would be a way to safe their farms, are finding out differently. While the gas companies pile on the profits from drilling on the farms sitting on top of the Marcellus shale, the farmers are paying the price. Local communities are now powerless in Pennsylvania to do much of anything since Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law a prohibition on allowing municipalities to have any say at all in permitting and enforcing the gas companies’ practices.

The article, while attempting to look at all sides (albeit with a definite bend toward the environmental side) and attempting to explain their past support and now withdrawal of support for natural gas drilling, left out one important footnote.

An earthquake in Ohio earlier this year shook more than the foundations of homes. It left folks puzzled until a report was released that linked the earthquake to the fracturing taking place there.

In researching for my next novel, I’m discovering that there are no easy answers. I’m also accepting that we are all to blame for this rush to find more and more sources of power. We can all be a part of the solution, too. Please share the links in this blog. Being an informed citizen is the first step.

(NOTE: I usually don’t use Wikipedia as a link source, but when I put in “Marcellus shale,” I either found a link decidedly pro or con. This was the only one that provided the “facts” I was seeking.)

Five Ways to Go Greener

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

The Sierra Club  offers five simple ways to make a difference in your lifestyle. I’m posting them along with a few of my own. It’s always good to be reminded that we can make easy changes in our ongoing efforts to live greener.

  1. Keep your vehicles tuned up – A well-tuned car burns less gasoline. Change your oil every 3,000 to 4,000 miles and when the air filter is dirty, spend the money to ,change it! It will make a difference. The U.S. Department of Energy says you can improve a car’s gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.
  2. Keep the tires properly inflated – US DOE claims you can improve gas mileage by 3.3 percent with properly inflated tires (appropriate tire pressure for your vehicle can be found in owner’s manual or on a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb). Besides, keeping those tires at the right level will make them last longer, which is good for the pocketbook and for the landfill.
  3. Use “air-dry” on your dishwasher – What a waste of energy to use the heat-dry option when you wash dishes. Depending on your dishwasher, you use 15 to 50 percent less energy by not using heat to dry dishes. Towels work just fine!
  4. Low flow faucets and aerators – This might be a difficult one for most of us accustomed to as much water pressure as we can stand. However, the Sierra Club says  if every U.S. household installed just one, it would save more than 60 billion gallons of water annually. That’s a lot of water not going under the bridge.
  5. Lessen your driving time – Consider biking, walking, and carpooling whenever you can. If public transportation is available, use it. I live in a rural area, eight miles from the nearest store. I keep lists of what I need, so when I go out during the day, I’m going for more than one thing. If I discover I’m missing a crucial ingredient for a recipe, I change plans or I improvise. No impulse drives to the store for me!
  6. Use fewer paper products – I buy cheap dish towels and washcloths and reuse, reuse, reuse. They don’t take up much space in the washing machine when I’m doing towels. We also use cloth napkins at every meal, but we keep track of who uses what and reuse them for several meals before washing. Unless it’s a picnic away from the house, we don’t use paper plates or cups either. I buy very few paper products.

What things can you add to this list?

Power – Cheap, Easy, and Hidden

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

We all want power. Today, our lives depend heavily on power. Try going a day without using it. We want it cheap and easy, but we’d rather not know its dirty little secrets.

For many decades, coal ruled as the energy source of choice for powering up the power plants across the nation. Thomas Edison started it all in New Jersey in 1906. Coal was plentiful and virtually free. Who cared that the process of bringing it up out of the earth was deadly? Who knew the emissions from the coal-powered plants were killing our atmosphere with carbon dioxide emissions? We couldn’t see it; but we could see to read more clearly at night. Coal continued as the cheapest way to bring light to our lives up until the past few years, despite the cost in human lives to do so.

Nuclear energy took a hit with the Three Mile Island mess and Chernobyl in Russia. But in the past decade a renaissance of sorts began taking place in the minds of folks who wondered if nuclear really wasn’t safer than we thought. Then with the meltdown in Japan after the tsunami, that renaissance almost screeched to a halt. It took something else to completely hurl it off the tracks: the cost of natural gas.

Natural gas prices are at their lowest in a decade, even cheaper than coal. But how much do we know about the methods used to bring that stuff up out of the ground? Because it’s cheap and profitable, fracking continues. However, a few weeks ago the Sierra Club reversed its position on supporting the drilling of natural gas as a safe alternative for energy. What impact that will have is uncertain because we don’t want to be inconvenienced by not being able to power up our computers or run our electric lawn mower.

The EPA has brought forth a proposal to limit emissions from electrical generations up to no more than 1,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide for every megawatt produced. Current coal plants, which will not be effected by this proposal should it become law, produce 1,800 lbs. per megawatt. Natural gas-fired power plants can meet this limit.

Let’s just all take a moment and breath while we can. Power from oil, natural gas, and coal provide us with the energy to fuel 90 percent of our horsepower. It does it for us behind the scenes quietly and relatively cheaply. And until human lives are lost, we don’t even think about it. Then we’re outraged as we watch CNN on our big screen TVs as the air conditioner keeps us cool.

According to Robert Bryce in Power Hungry – The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, renewable energy is just not up to the challenge of giving us the power we demand.

And the more I read, the less I believe renewable energy will ever be able to do the job at the level we live today. The power plants and the fuels lighting up our lives can do the job, but at what cost to us?

All I can do here in my little world, sitting within miles of a nuclear power plant and a coal-fired power plant, is to live a conscious life and do my part to lessen my dependence on power. But first let me post this to my blog after I’ve heated up my coffee in the microwave. And then I’ll turn out the lights.

Coal-power in the backyardCooling towers at the Shippingport Nuclear Power Plant