Scientists are warning that the controversial practice of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may lead to far more powerful earthquakes than previously thought. Fracking injects millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth in order to break up shale rock and release natural gas. A new study published Thursday in the journal Science by a leading seismology lab warns that pumping water underground can induce dangerous earthquakes, even in regions not otherwise prone to tremors. The new report comes as Academy Award-nominated director Josh Fox has released the sequel to his highly acclaimed documentary "Gasland," which sparked a national discussion on fracking. The new film, "Gasland Part II," exposes how the gas industry and the government’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is highly suspect. He also discusses how drilling companies have admitted to having several former military psychological operations, or PSYOPs, specialists on staff, applying their skills in Pennsylvania to counter opponents of drilling.
"What’s really disappointing about this is that this is a moment when an American president has come forward and spoken about climate change and exhibited his obvious and earnest desire to take on the problem; however, the emphasis on fracked gas makes this plan entirely the wrong plan," says Fox, noting that methane released from fracking sites is more potent than other greenhouse gases. "Moving from coal to fracked gas doesn’t give you any climate benefit at all. So the plan should be about how we’re moving off of fossil fuels and onto alternate energy."
Full transcript of the discussion below the fold, or you can read it at Democracy Now!'s website.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Scientists are warning that the controversial practice of fracking may lead to far more powerful earthquakes than previously thought. Fracking injects millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth in order to break up shale rock and release natural gas. Now a new study published Thursday in the journal Science by one of the world’s leading seismology labs warns that pumping water underground can induce dangerous earthquakes even in regions not otherwise prone to tremors. The research also reveals that long-term water pumping makes sites more vulnerable to sizable tremors triggered by earthquakes occurring in other parts of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: The new report comes as Academy Award-nominated director Josh Fox has released the sequel to his highly acclaimed documentary Gasland that sparked a national discussion on fracking. The new film, Gasland Part II, exposes how the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is highly suspect. It shows that fracked wells inevitably leak over time, and these leaks can then contaminate the environment, sicken residents and exacerbate climate change. This is the film’s trailer.
JOSH FOX: My name is Josh Fox. It’s been five years since the first proposal to drill thousands of gas wells came knocking at my door. And with thousands of cases of water contamination, air pollution and health problems across the U.S., it’s not just the numbers that get you dizzy.
UNIDENTIFIED: This is where we eat, sleep, live. This is our home.
JOSH FOX: There was only one problem: The gas industry denied everything.
GAS INDUSTRY SPOKESPERSON: We have found no instance of hydraulic fracturing harming groundwater.
JOSH FOX: The war for who was going to tell this story was on.
UNIDENTIFIED: They want a street fight out of this.
UNIDENTIFIED: Never underestimate the power of money.
UNIDENTIFIED: It’s scary when your own government is afraid of a business.
UNIDENTIFIED: People complain about the price of gas. Wait 'til you're paying twice that for water.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the trailer of Gasland Part II. The film premiered earlier this week on HBO. Josh Fox’s previous documentary, Gasland, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Josh Fox, welcome back to Democracy Now!
JOSH FOX: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you find in part two? And start by talking about the significance of this Science journal study in relating earthquakes with fracking.
JOSH FOX: Well, first, in terms of earthquakes, which we do cover in the new film because there’s a huge shale play in California, and in fact there’s a Legacy thousand-acre oil field in the center of Los Angeles, which is being drilled and fracked right on top of the Newport-Inglewood fault line—the earthquake study showed that earthquakes far away, you know, on the other side of the planet, could then trigger bigger earthquakes where they have injection well facilities. So, injection well facilities are used for fracking waste. Fracking, you know, creates an enormous amount of wastewater. When they frack the wells with two to nine million gallons per well of fluid and water, that fluid has to come back up and be disposed of somehow. The industry has a huge problem figuring out how to dispose of it, so they inject it back down into the ground. And what the report says is that fault lines are becoming critically stressed by the process of injection wells. It also says that the fracking itself can cause minor earthquakes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Josh, your original film has provoked quite a bit of effort to discredit some portions of the film, especially the now-legendary portion of people’s faucets catching fire. Can you talk about the efforts of the industry to discredit your work?
JOSH FOX: Well, the oil and gas industry has been attacking the film, the families in the film, the scientists in the film, consistently for the last three years since it came out, and they’re at it again with this new film. It’s extraordinarily disheartening to see that this is their strategy. It’s deny, deny, deny, spread money around, try to influence politicians, spend lots and lots of money in the media to convince Americans that it’s a great idea to drill one to two million new gas wells. Those are the projections. The oil and gas industry has leased more land than the total landmass of California and Florida combined, which means that a lot of those adjacent properties in these 34 states where the drilling campaign is going on are also influenced, so it’s maybe twice that amount of area. It really is shocking that what they’re saying, similar to the way that they attack climate science, that some of these things are a hoax, that they’re not actually true. This is a really blatant attack on the science, on the way that this issue has been reported for the last three-and-a-half years. And they also revealed themselves to be doing some kind of dastardly things in the background without us knowing about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Jeremiah Gee—is that how you pronounce his name?
JOSH FOX: Sure, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, explaining what it’s like to live next door to land being leased to Shell Appalachia for gas drilling.
JOSH FOX: Contaminants were running off the site onto his property and killing his family’s pond. Under the ground, methane had migrated into their water well.
JEREMIAH GEE: Holy cow!
AMY GOODMAN: The clip ends with Jeremiah Gee showing how he can light his tap water on fire.
JOSH FOX: Yeah. Well, this is very common. The gas migrates from these leaking gas wells into aquifers and then people who are using their groundwater.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremiah Gee here explains the situation with his water supply.
JEREMIAH GEE: You know I’ll get a phone call in a few minutes asking why I was up here with a guy with a camera. We were told point blank that the word "freshwater" does not mean what you think it means. Freshwater means fresh to this site. Every bit of water that will be coming here and used in the frack tanks has already been used at a different site.
AMY GOODMAN: Josh Fox, talk about how the industry deals with communities. You have an astounding section in Gasland II that has audio of the industry talking to each other, talking about how they’re using military, and talking about how they consider you and the people who are fighting back insurgents.
JOSH FOX: Well, this is audio that was recorded by a blogger named Texas Sharon, working for Earthworks, who was at an oil and gas industry conference where they were discussing all the bad PR that they were getting and how to counter it. And what they go on to do is explain how they’re using former PSYOPs officers, psychological operations officers, who were newly coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, to write local laws, to develop techniques to divide local landowners. That’s Matt Pitzarella from Range Resources talking about that. Chesapeake then goes on to talk about people who are fighting the gas industry, like landowners, like you just saw, Jeremiah Gee, as insurgents. And one of the PR spokespeople for Anadarko, another huge petroleum company, says that what they should actually do is download the counterinsurgency manual, which is a 300-odd-page book about, you know, how to deal with an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are terms of war, and it was very, very shocking to see that.
But it goes hand in hand with a strategy that’s very overt in the media, which is to buy—you can’t turn on the TV, except for perhaps this show, where you’re not going to see ads from the natural gas industry. And we’re seeing also editorials and these kinds of things on blog posts seeded to do things to try to discredit the very clear science, and in most cases the science that the industry themselves did. This is following the tobacco industry’s playbook. The tobacco industry for decades sponsored bogus science, went out to try to create doubt in the media as to whether or not the cigarettes were harmful to people. And that strategy was developed by a PR firm called Hill & Knowlton. The America’s Natural Gas Alliance hired the same PR firm in 2009, and we’re seeing that same kind of strategy of creating doubt and of creating a false debate in the media over whether or not this drilling contaminates water.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Josh, let’s—I want to turn to Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, the first secretary of homeland security and an outspoken supporter of the natural gas industry. Ridge says natural gas is a matter of economic security and energy independence. I want to go to a clip of his in an interview on The Colbert Report.
TOM RIDGE: Pennsylvania is sitting on top of something I think could be a—could lead a renaissance in America with regard to energy, not only in terms of creating jobs, but making us more secure, less dependent on foreign sources. And so, my job—and I do have a paid job as a consultant with the industry—is to make sure, as Pennsylvania, that we take advantage of that resources—that resource and develop it in a way that’s consistent with workplace safety, with environmentally sound principles, and to help us become—create great jobs in Pennsylvania and become less dependent on foreign sources of fuel.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The host, Stephen Colbert, then asked Tom Ridge about the phenomena of flaming water. This was Ridge’s response.
TOM RIDGE: Whether or not you want to send a billion dollars a day to foreign countries, some of whom were either unstable or unfriendly countries. It’s a matter of whether or not you want a bunch of leaders in a bunch of countries deciding they’re not going to increase their production of oil, which means our gas prices go through the roof. It’s a matter of economic security. It’s a matter of national security.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and an outspoken supporter of the natural gas industry.
JOSH FOX: Well, Tom Ridge had a $900,000 contract to be the chief spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. At around the same time, we noticed that the Department of Homeland Security, which—of course, Tom Ridge was the first Department of Homeland Security chair—the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security started circulating bulletins to law enforcement that listed anti-fracking organizations as possible ecoterrorists, which had no basis in reality. There had never been anything at all violent. These were people doing democratic organizing and organization. But then it was discovered that the Department of Homeland Security was actually circulating those bulletins directly to the Marcellus Shale Coalition and to other gas industry lobbyists and stakeholders. This was a scandal in Pennsylvania, which ended up with the DHS head resigning. But Tom Ridge and a lot of—three Pennsylvania governors in a row—Tom Ridge, Ed Rendell and now Tom Corbett—have heavy ties to the gas industry and go on to advocate for fracking and drilling without disclosing those ties in the media. It’s a situation where, in a report by the Public Accountability Initiative called "Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania," they describe as having the regulatory agencies and the democracy itself being taken away from the citizens. And that’s really the journey and the question behind this new film. The film is—you know, the first film features a lot of people lighting their water on fire. This is a film about the natural gas industry lighting our democracy on fire.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s not just the industry. As you point out, I mean, Tom Ridge was former head of homeland security, former governor of Pennsylvania, now paid to speak for the energy industry. But then you have President Obama. Last month, he delivered a major address on global warming and hailed natural gas drilling. Let’s go to a clip.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, even as we’re producing more domestic oil, we’re also producing more cleaner-burning natural gas than any other country on Earth. And again, sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this: We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas produce, because in the medium term, at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama.
JOSH FOX: Well, this is President Obama advocating for fracking without ever saying the word "fracking," both domestically, also for export, and around the world in an initiative to promote shale gas and fracking around the world. What’s really disappointing about this is that this is a moment when an American president has come forward and spoken about climate change and exhibited his obvious and earnest desire to take on the problem; however, the emphasis on fracked gas makes this plan entirely the wrong plan. The plan focuses on carbon dioxide, but how we count global warming potential is in carbon dioxide equivalence, and methane, which is leaking out of these sites in very large quantities, is a super greenhouse gas. It’s up to a hundred times more potent than CO2 in the atmosphere, which means if you have more than 1 percent methane leakage, it’s like burning the gas twice. In the field, we’re seeing 7 to 17 percent of total production methane leaking into the atmosphere. Moving from coal to fracked gas doesn’t give you any climate benefit at all. So the plan should be about how we’re moving off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energy, which is what we know can power the planet, as we—with current technology. So, this administration—
AMY GOODMAN: What’s stopping that?
JOSH FOX: Well, you know, this administration has done a lot of meetings with the natural gas industry. We know that. There is, I think, an undue influence of their promotion of themselves on the policy. And what we’re doing right now is asking President Obama, "Please, meet with the families and the scientists and engineers in the new film. Give us an opportunity to make the case, have equal time." This president’s legacy should not be one of just meeting with the corporations. He should meet with the people who are coming out and are saying—who are emblematic of thousands who are suffering at the hands of this huge drilling campaign. So we’ve submitted those letters to the White House, to the vice president, to the energy secretary, to Valerie Jarrett, and done this in a very public way, appealing to say, "Listen, you can’t go ahead and advocate for fracked gas and try to deal with climate change at the same time. It’s a policy contradiction."
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of speaking with the people, New York state has—continues to have an ongoing very vocal and extensive popular campaign that has actually been preventing Governor Cuomo from doing what a lot of people think he wants to do, which is go ahead with fracking here.
JOSH FOX: New York state did something very unusual that other states didn’t do: They used democracy. They did an environmental impact study, and that environmental impact study has comment periods. And New Yorkers flooded those comment sessions. The latest comment review got 204,000 public comments by New Yorkers. This is unprecedented. The last record for pre-fracking issue on an environmental impact study was a thousand comments. So we’ve seen an unprecedented outpouring of people in New York participating democratically, and that has stopped the most powerful industries on the face of the planet. And it’s still not over, of course. But I think people are seeing the citizens of New York and the way the government in New York has handled it to allow citizen participation as an example, and we can only hope that that is something that inspires people around the world to do the same.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s end in another neck of the woods. This is from Gasland Part II, Lisa Parr of Wise County, Texas, explaining how her family’s health deteriorated after natural gas drilling began around their home.
LISA PARR: My daughter looks up. Her rash is all over her face. She has nosebleed. Bob has a nosebleed, burning throat, burning eyes. I had a rash. It covered my scalp. It went through my entire body, literally to the bottoms of my feet. My throat would start swelling. I started gasping for air. I started stuttering. I started stumbling. My face drew up on my left side like I had Bell palsy.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from Gasland Part II. It’s premiered on HBO earlier this week. It’s on VOD. Josh Fox’s previous documentary, Gasland, was documented for an Academy Award. Thanks, Josh, for being with us.
JOSH FOX: Thanks so much, Amy and Juan.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.