Archive for August 17th, 2011
“Fracking” is slang for “hydraulic fracturing,” a process by which natural gas is extracted from rock. It involves injecting massive quantities of water, sand and a secret brew of chemicals into rock formation as extremely high pressure. It’s providing a lot of natural gas from areas that otherwise would be unproductive or marginally productive.
But there are questions about the safety of fracking, and one of them is whether it is contaminating folks’ well water.
The oil and gas industry has steadfastly denied that fracking contaminates water wells.
“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,”
- Rex W. Tillerson, CEO, ExxonMobil, testimony to Congress
Alaskans’ to their sorrow, are deeply skeptical of anything Exxon says. Thank you, Captain Hazelwood. And you’d be right to be skeptical this time, too.
There is at least one published case where the EPA found fracking had contaminated a well. There may have been many incidents of contamination. But while there are dozens of cases where a property owner has sued a fracker for trashing their water quality, there isn’t a reported decision that WC can discover. There aren’t any reported decisions where the fracker was determined to have not caused water contamination.
There are a very substantial number of cases where there has been a settlement, and in each of those settlements the terms of the settlement are confidential and the settlement is under seal. That means that federal agencies – and private citizens – can’t find out if there was contamination, and how much the fracker may have paid.
The frackers would have you believe there’s nothing special about sealed settlements:
Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, dismissed the assertion that sealed settlements have hidden problems with gas drilling, and he added that countless academic, federal and state investigators conducted extensive research on groundwater contamination issues, and have found that drinking water contamination from fracking is highly improbable.
“Settlements are sealed for a variety of reasons, are common in litigation, and are done at the request of both landowners and operators,” Mr. Wohlschlegel said.
Any litigation attorney would break into laughter at such a claim. If there was no basis for the claim, the frackers would shout it from the rooftops to discourage other claims. No, the only reason settlements are sealed is that someone coughed up dough. And the one that wrote the check doesn’t want anyone else to know. It might give other folks ideas. A property owner whose tap water was ruined and got some satisfaction has only one reason to agree to keep silent: they got paid to keep quiet.
Secret settlements of lawsuits involving public interest issues are a bad idea. In this instance, it allows Big Oil to push the Big Lie. And allowed Exxon’s CEO to skate perjury. Again.