Thursday, July 01, 2010


Insomnia Theater--Gasland

There's a polemical documentary on HBO now, called Gasland. It may be the most dishonest documentary I've ever seen, and I've watched many, including Der Ewig Jude, produced by Joseph Goebbels. It's about the supposed dangers of natural gas production, particularly from hydraulic fracturing or fracing. Let's start with the praise.

The writer/director is Josh Fox, whose only other work is Memorial Day from 2008. He is firmly in the style of Michael Moore, but he is much more endearing than Moore. The music is pretty good. I particularly liked Josh playing the banjo wearing a gas mask, south and west of Pinedale in Wyoming (where I worked as a for real cowboy decades ago). OK, now the bad.

Fox doesn't give much of a personal history other than to describe his parents as hippies. I think it is clear that Josh is a follower, perhaps unconsciously, of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School whose Marxist members (and the generations who followed) seek to undermine the success and prosperity of America through undeserved and unremitting criticism, kind of a cultural provocation. His documentary is a series of lies, both outright and by omission.

Let's hit the high points. Almost everything he says about federal regulation and law regarding natural gas well production is false. There is no exemption for natural gas producers from the EPA and no recent exemptions from clean water act, etc. Those laws never applied to hydraulic fracing. Wait, I see I've jumped in to the middle too soon. Let's start with the hierarchy of "good" energy sources as the Marxist ecologists see them. Wind, photovoltaic and bio diesel are the good. If you examine them with even a modicum of common sense, you see they are actually bad, as the first two waste money and chop up birds and bats without saving a single erg of our real energy sources. Bio diesel is also pixie dust energy-- a few might use it but it could never power even a little country like Belgium, much less us or the World. Coal and oil are just plain bad (even though they supply about 70% of our energy). Hydroelectric dams are bad, even though they are good, and nuclear power, even though it is good, is considered bad. So that leaves natural gas. Not much too bad to say about it, so of course Mr. Fox paints his tired set of straw bogeymen to make it seem bad.

History. Pump water and sand down a well under pressure and you will create micro fractures in the rock you have drilled through, the sand will prop oven the fractures after the pressure is released and the water mainly recovered. That's hydraulic fracturing. The oil and gas industry has been doing it since 1949. In some shale formations, like the Bakken and Marcellus, only with fracing will the gas actually flow out. Most sane people like natural gas. It burns with better efficiency than coal or oil derivatives. Most of the tight, gas bearing shale formations are from one to two miles down. The drillers go down at least 5,000 feet, sometimes much farther, and then drill horizontally for another mile. Then they frac. The frac fluid is 99.5% water and sand. Just a tiny bit, one part in 200, is chemicals. Most of the chemicals are benign, like salts, sodium and magnesium chloride, guar, soapy lubricants, rust and slime inhibiters, etc. Some are like other chemicals, bad if you get a big dose, harmless in truly tiny concentrations. Most of the frac fluid is recovered but some stays down in the hole, a mile to two miles down under thousands of feet of impermeable rock. The weak link of the chain is in the casing. Modern wells which employ fracing use three casings or steel pipes. The inside one lines the hole from top to bottom. The half mile second barrier protects the deepest of deep water pockets, and the third gets the bore even more safely through the water table just under the surface to perhaps 150 feet down. As BP recently learned, it's a bad idea to put the casing at risk.

But some drillers have blown one or more of the casings, usually with incompletely set cement. The major casing leaks were in Dimock, Pennsylvania (Cabot) and at Divide Creek, CO (Encana, who purchased the well already producing). These were casing ruptures, not frac fluid contamination and unless Josh Fox has a major form of Asperger's Syndrome, he knows that. But one watching this move would not know that. He completely leaves out the cause of the two "spills" he covers and implies they were frac fluids rising to contaminate the surface water. They were not. Injected frac fluid has never contaminated ground water and, moreover, there is little danger it ever will, given the geology of the places the drillers are fracing.

It's really low to pretend that a know cause is something else most people don't know. That's Mr. Fox, liar and manipulator.

The best part of the film is the flaming water from faucets just north of here in Weld County, CO. I know that there are natural natural gas seeps (just as there are natural oil seeps, like the La Brea tar pits) but I don't know what to make of those water wells. It's clearly natural gas in the water (not frac fluid seeping up as Mr. Fox wants us to speculate). The wells in Weld are relatively shallow, not into tight shale and have not been fraced, at least not to any degree like the wells in Pennsylvania and near Pinedale have. There just wouldn't be enough volatile chemicals in the remaining frac fluid to flame up like that. Are those flaming water wells in Weld natural or drilling gone bad? I don't have enough information to make the call, but neither does Mr. Fox. His lack of knowledge doesn't stop him from major misdirection.

Another out and ought lie is that mule deer, pronghorn antelope and sage grouse are endangered and declining in Wyoming. What a crock. You can hunt each of them. The population of pronghorn, for example, around the turn of last century was maybe 12,000. When I was a child it was a big deal to see them. Now there are well over a million. They're all over the place. Endangered, my wide, white ass.

The silly movie The China Syndrome is credited, as much as the Three Mile Island non-disaster, with the demise of new nuclear plants here in America. Josh Fox apparently wants to do the same with natural gas drilling. Why? He lives way down the road from anywhere; does he want to have to use a bike, or a buggy, like the Amish? More likely he wants us to use the bike or buggy and he, the big important movie maker, can use all the fossil fuel he wants, because he needs to travel.

The more I think about this movie, the more I grow to admire books.


People like yourself who dismiss and downplay the fact that your countries citizens are being slowly killed by their own government in the name of "progress" and "prosperity" are the reason these kind of things are allowed to continue. You and others like you relentlessly drive industry forward, but to what purpose? Why do you need to mow everything down in the name of progress? You'll never be invaded, nuclear weapons have essentially obsoleted large scale warfare for the last 60 years. Still, people like yourself it seems are determined to keep pressing for more and more, creating tons of collateral and irreparable long term damage for a short term boost.

You should be ashamed of yourself. If you have children, you should be doubly ashamed.
The article contains lots of assumptions and no references to research (which admittedly is just beginning on fracking but is out there). However fracking chemicals have indeed poisoned water supplies in the Pinedale, WY area and caused WY, has never been a place where environmental concerns have ever trumped monetary ones, to enact strict controls on the process. NY, VT, and PA have followed as water wells have become contaminated and even flammable.

As for the constant references to regulation and Marxism, they are just silly. No nation on earth has ever gone Marxist because of environmental regulation, public health systems or social safety nets, in fact if recent history is any gauge quite the opposite is true.
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