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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Daily Gasland Part II Back-and-Forth

Debate and controversy swirls around Josh Fox's
latest attack on the oil and gas industry
Gasland Part II made its first appearance on HBO last night, and unsurprisingly the oil and gas industry has been putting out a large quantity of counter-programming through various articles which focus on Josh Fox's alleged propensity to fabricate statistics and use misleading imagery in his films.  Here is a sampling of today's Josh Fox/Gasland news and debate.


Gasland Part II features a shot of Texas landowner Steven Lipsky holding a garden hose with flame spouting from the end of it.  The industry and Fox are going back and forth on the legitimacy of Lipsky's claims in what amounts to something of a silly argument, since the real question is whether or not methane in Lipsky's well came from drilling operations.  On that front, the argument made by the industry seems more substantive than the argument of Fox to me, but you can decide for yourself.

Here's some of what Fox says in response to the industry criticism of the Lipsky scene (read the whole thing here):


Meanwhile, Range was exerting serious pressure on state regulators to intervene. In March 2011, the Texas Railroad Commission mysteriously reversed course and declared Range was not responsible for the contamination of the Lipsky’s well. Immediately, Range stopped the water shipments to the Lipskys, who were forced to begin spending $1,000 per month for drinking water.
Buoyed by the state’s decision, Range Resources sued the Lipsky’s for defamation. The EPA called in independent expert Geoffrey Thyne to double-check its earlier findings in preparation for trial. Thyne used a chemical analysis called isotopic fingerprinting and determined that the methane in the Lipsky’s drinking water was indeed a match with the gas from Range’s nearby drilling operation. (While the EPA never released the results publicly, the Associated Press obtained a copy of Thyne’s report.)


Meanwhile, Range Resources hired its own experts to dispute these conclusions, throwing about $3 million dollars into the suit. Officials from the Texas Railroad Commission and state legislature lined up alongside, expressing anger about the feds’ meddling in state affairs. The Texas judge presiding over the case, Trey Loftin, concluded that a video Lipsky presented of his water well on fire was deceptive, stating that it was connected to a gas vent rather than the water well.  But his order completely disregarded the photo filed in evidence of a well service technician flaring both gas and water from Lipsky's well:
Even Range's own expert, petroleum engineer McBeath, said in his testimony that the water well company had attached the hose to burn the gas off further from the wellhead. The purpose was to avoid an accidental fire, not to conspire against Range. After all, the EPA hadn't based its order on a video. The agency's investigators had seen it all for themselves.
The EPA offered no public explanation for its decision to drop the case.
A couple of notes on this, in addition to the fact that again it doesn't really matter whether Lipsky has the hose hooked to a water line or a gas vent if the gas didn't come from drilling:

  • While wanting to claim government bias and conspiracy every time a government agency does anything to suggest that a claim of drilling contamination or problems doesn't have merit, Fox ignores the clear bias of EPA senior official (at the time - he now works with the anti-drilling Sierra Club after resigning from the EPA) Al Armendariz, who spearheaded the decision to levy the accusation against Range and issue an emergency order in this case, as well as the gleeful and conspiratorial communications between Armendariz and anti-drilling activists as the news of the emergency order became public.
  • Science matters, Fox says - unless the science goes against his agenda.  That's not to say that the industry isn't the same way.  Any report suggesting that fracking could contaminate anything is attacked with a relentless furor by the industry, but the attacks are mostly head on and directly face and answer the specific accusations (not always, as this back-and-forth shows).  Fox, on the other hand, writes off Range hiring experts to investigate the Lipsky situation by saying that they just threw $3 million into the lawsuit, while ignoring the fact that those experts conducted geochemical gas fingerprinting.  According to those experts, the isotopic fingerprinting performed by the EPA's chosen expert was not sufficient to establish where the gas in the well came from because the isotopic properties of the Barnett Shale and the shallower Strawn Formation are the same.  The more extensive geochemical gas fingerprinting revealed high nitrogen in the Lipsky well, which is consistent with the Strawn Formation.  Fox ignores all of these specifics (which you can read about in more detail here).
Those are just a couple of observations.  The obvious response is "If it didn't come from drilling, then why did the problem only appear after drilling took place?"  I guess that's where the science comes in.  What does the science actually say?  Each side seems to have their own version of that.  Here is a snippet of Energy in Depth's comments on the Lipsky case (read the whole article here):
As for the EPA, a senior official – Al “Crucify Them” Armendariz – initially worked in lockstep with local activists to pursue a baseless endangerment order against the operator of those wells, Range Resources. Extensive geochemical gas fingerprinting, however, showed a natural source for the methane – not drilling (or “fracking”). An EPA official later admitted under oath that the agency had not conducted extensive fingerprinting to find the source, and in 2012 the EPA dropped its case.
After the EPA withdrew the endangerment order, the Texas Railroad Commission – which regulates oil and gas in Texas – reaffirmed the lack of impact: “Range Resources’ Parker County gas wells did not contaminate groundwater.”
The Washington Free Beacon also responded to Fox's use of the Lipsky case:
Fox’s new film, Gasland Part II, features a powerful scene showing a Texas landowner lighting the contents of a garden hose on fire. The incident is presented as evidence of water contamination from a nearby hydraulic fracturing operation. 
According to a Texas court, the scene was actually a hoax devised by a Texas environmental activist engaged in a prolonged battle with a local gas company to falsely inflate the supposed dangers of the oil and gas extraction technique, also known as fracking.
 It's really the same old he-said, she-said that's been going on for a while now.  Who do you believe?


John Hanger posted a response to Fox's portrayal of the ongoing situation in Dimock, PA, which has been recounted many times before (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), in Gasland Part II.  Here is part of it:
Airing last night on HBO, Gasland 2 focuses considerably on pollution of 18 water wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania by methane and the proposed extension of a water line to the families whose water was contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas. Josh Fox and I agree that mistakes caused in gas drilling by Cabot caused methane to pollute the water wells of 18 families, but  unfortunately you won't see the real story of the proposed water line to serve those 18 families in Gasland 2.  Here is what really happened in the fight with Cabot to clean up the groundwater and to build a proposed water line from Montrose to Dimock.

To recap, Cabot made mistakes in gas drilling that caused methane  to pollute 18 water wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. That conclusion was established by an extensive investigation done by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under my leadership.
You can read the whole thing here.  It's an interesting look at the Dimock situation, and it goes on to highlight some more facts that were omitted or flat-out misrepresented by Fox in the new movie.


Anti-drilling site Mother Jones has a distinctly more positive feeling about Gasland Part II.  Here is some of what they had to say:
Gasland ended with coverage of a June 4, 2009, hearing by the House Energy and Minerals subcommittee that addressed the safety and risks of natural gas drilling. Fox narrates, "The FRAC Act is making its way through Congress, and industry is lobbying hard against it." The FRAC Act called for the removal of hydraulic fracturing's exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and would have implemented federal regulation of the industry. But the bill never received a vote.
Gasland Part II premieres tonight on HBO and picks up in the spring of 2010, with Fox touring the Gulf of Mexico by helicopter. Below, oil from BP's exploded Deepwater Horizon rig streams along the surface. Through voiceover, Fox explains how difficult it was to get clearance to fly in the area. "Journalists would call up the FAA to clear flights," he says, "and BP would answer the phone." It's an emotional sequence, which immediately sparks a sense of injustice and opens up the film's broad theme of industry influence on government.
Stirring a sense of injustice by starting the movie with shots of the Deepwater Horizon rig - which has nothing to do with onshore drilling and the claims that Fox will go on to make about its impact on people - is an interesting and manipulative choice that appears to have worked exactly as hoped on those who are already opposed to drilling, while prompting others to ask what it has to do with shale drilling.  Read the rest of the Mother Jones article here.


Next comes an open letter in which Josh Fox requests that the president take time to listen to him and a bunch of other activists talk about how bad shale drilling is.  Some of those activists are also professors, like Tony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth of Cornell.  Here's a portion:
We believe that the natural gas industry has not been forthcoming with your administration about the real effects of drilling and fracking on our water, air, land, climate, public health and safety—and on democracy itself. As such, we seek to discuss with you the dark side of fracking, a perspective that has not yet been presented to you with adequate weight or emphasis.
In 2008, when I was offered a gas lease on my land in the upper Delaware River watershed in Pennsylvania, I decided to investigate the effects of drilling and fracking around the nation. That investigation became the documentary Gasland. While filming, I discovered widespread water contamination, air pollution, methane leakage, land scarring and massive industrialization of previously rural, suburban or urban areas. Most disturbingly of all, I discovered in the gasfields of America people who had lost control of their lives, their communities and their human and civil rights.
Fox even devotes a paragraph to pointing out the awards and nominations that Gasland received:
Although I had never before made a documentary, Gasland was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, picked up by HBO, nominated for the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary and received four Emmy nominations—winning one for my direction. The film has been aired on television in over 30 countries to an estimated audience of 50 million people.
Read the rest here.


And from Daily Kos comes this response to Fox's interview on Comedy Central:
Several specific points Fox stated in the interview set off my "BullXXXX Detector," including his claims about massive, uncontrolled methane emissions from oil and natural gas well drilling, well completion and production operations -- claims which are not supported in EPA's background documents on air emissions from the oil and gas industry.
But what really caught my eye was Fox's claim about the Society of Petroleum Engineers.    Fox stated:

“Society of Petroleum Engineers says that 35% of the world’s wells are leaking”.
In the main interview portion Fox claimed that the oil and gas industry carried out
wells with 'fatally flawed engineering' and I suppose that Fox thought his claims about the Society of Petroleum Engineers would buttress his point.  
When I first heard it, I immediately thought Fox's claim about SPE was an absolutely unbelievable fabrication and conflation.   So I decided to contact SPE to see what they said about what Josh Fox said about them.
I just received an email from the Society of Petroleum Engineer official Paige McCown, Senior Manager Communication and Energy Education:
Hi Alex,
The actual quote from Mr. Fox on the Daily Show was that the “Society of Petroleum Engineers says that 35% of the world’s wells are leaking”.  Neither SPE, nor anyone representing SPE, has ever made the claim that 35% of the world’s (oil and gas) wells are leaking.  We have no basis for making such a determination.
Thank you,
Paige McCown
Society of Petroleum Engineers
Senior Manager Communication & Energy Education
713-457-6826 office
832-776-3511 cell

Josh Fox's claim stating that the Society of Petroleum Engineers says that 35% of the world's oil and gas wells are leaking is a total and complete fabrication.
You can read the rest of that article here.

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