One of the most lauded docs at Sundance was Gasland, director Josh Fox’s look at how natural gas companies are using a really dangerous method of extracting natural gas called “fracking,” short for hydraulic fracturing, given the okay by the Bush/Cheney administration, who ran our country into the ground for eight years while the media was still reeling from Monica Lewinsky and 9/11. ¬†Fox spoke recently with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross on the impact of this type of process:
“Hydraulic fracturing is a process of injecting, at incredibly high pressure, a huge volume of water ‚Äî they use between 2 and 7 million gallons of water per frack to fracture the rock formation. It’s called unconventional gas drilling. It fractures that rock apart and gets at all of the tiny bubbles of the gas that are sort of infused in that rock. In order to do that, they inject [these] million gallons of fluid down the wellbore that breaks apart the rock. It causes a kind of mini-earthquake under very intense pressure. What seems to be happening is that’s liberating gas and other volatile, organic compounds. … The volatile organics are released along with the gas. Sometimes they’re used as part of the compounds. The fracking fluid creates this. You’re releasing volatile organics, which are carcinogenic, and that is traveling, somehow ‚Äî along with the methane ‚Äî getting into peoples’ water supply so that it’s flammable.”
Will anyone listen or care? ¬†Many bizarre methods of persuasion have been used to convince landowners to become “leased.” ¬†The fallout from this is not yet known. ¬†Most of the people who are leased have signed non-disclosure agreements, which means “you don’t talk.”
If you happen to be interested in how the Bush/Cheney administration is involved, Gross also spoke with journalist Abrahm Lustgarten, who writes for ProPublica.com on the recently revealed scandal involving BP’s many warnings of safety and other impending disasters. He also spoke on the gas industry:
In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act. This was the culmination of the Bush administration’s energy policy and the meetings that Vice President Richard Cheney had under the Energy Task Force in early 2000 and 2001. The Energy Policy Act essentially created a loophole that exempted the process of hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Water Drinking Act. In some ways it was a clarification. The Safe Drinking Water Act is intended to regulate any fluids that are injected underground.
The Safe Drinking Water Act stipulated that the fluids injected for hydraulic fracturing are used in the production of a resource and are then removed and therefore dont constitute the disposal of fluids and therefore shouldnt be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
However you reason it, the net effect was that the exemption was created and the EPA’s authority to regulate the specific process of hydraulic fracturing was removed. Ever since 2005, the EPA has not been able to invoke federal regulations that govern what tests are done before the hydraulic fracturing process is conducted, how the process itself is conducted, or examining what impacts it has after it’s been done.
GROSS: There was 2004 EPA study that said that fracking posed no risk to drinking water, and that study helped lead to the EPA exemption in the 2005 energy bill. But you say in that 2004 EPA study, that there was some almost collusion between the gas industry and the EPA on that.
Mr. LUSTGARTEN: Well, we filed for – under Freedom of Information Act, we filed for papers and documents that led to the writing and publishing of that report. And some of what we saw were emails and meeting notes that showed a direct negotiation, in this case between Halliburton, which is one of companies that conducts hydraulic fracturing in the United States, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
As the EPA was deciding to represent its conclusions, was deciding how to word its report, Halliburton had essentially asked that they not receive as much intense scrutiny, as much inspection scrutiny from the EPA, in exchange for an agreement to stop using diesel fuel in their hydraulic fracturing solutions.
Diesel fuel was one of the chemicals of greatest concern because it contains benzene, which is a known carcinogen and was one of the most important chemicals being used at the time for hydraulic fracturing and probably presented some of the greatest threat to drinking water supplies. So there was a little bit of a back and forth that was illuminated in the EPA’s internal documents before it reached that conclusion.
Read the full interview with Terry Gross at NPR’s site. ¬†Watch Gasland on June 21 on HBO.