Monday, January 30, 2012

CBS News Botches Dimock Story, Despite My Effort!

 CBS News botched its Saturday January 28th story on Dimock and hydraulic fracturing (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7396742n&tag=cbsnewsMainColumnArea). Most unfortunately the story got critical facts totally wrong; more than a couple million people saw it; and I was in it!

On Friday January 20th, CBS News asked to do an interview with me about Dimock. I traveled to the CBS Harrisburg affiliate and answered from 7:30pm to 8:15pm on camera via satellite numerous questions from a  CBS News producer in New York about Dimock.

We spoke  about what happened in Dimock and, just as importantly, what did not happen there. Simply put, I said that gas had migrated from poor drilling to 18 water wells, but no fluids from hydraulic fracturing had returned from depth.

I walked CBS News through the testing and investigation done to conclude that gas had migrated to 18 wells, but fracking fluids had not. I stressed that Duke University's testing of the same wells also had found no fracking fluids but high methane levels.

I noted that, since the driller (Cabot) had not done pre-drill water tests in 2008, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's investigation of the water well contamination was  more difficult.  I explained the various tests and steps completed that supported a finding that gas had migrated but that frack fluids had not returned from depth to contaminate water wells. I told CBS about the recent Lenox Township case involving Cabot where a pre-drilling water test had been done. In that case, there was very low methane levels prior to drilling and very high levels after drilling.

I hit hard that the problem was gas migrating and not frack fluids returning from depth. After seeing the CBS story, I might as well as have spat in a hurricane.

The CBS story starts with the exploding water tap scene from Gasland and flatly says that the Dimock wells were contaminated by fracking fluids and that the EPA has concluded so.  It includes a diagram to show fracking and fluids entering the aquifer.

What about the 45 minute interview that I gave? CBS takes less than 5 seconds from it and has me saying only that "Poor drilling contaminated 18 wells." 

The piece contains nothing from me saying that the problem was gas migrating and not frack fluids. Nothing from me saying that the frack fluids had not returned from depth. Nothing from me saying that hydraulic fracuring had nothing to do with the problem. Nothing from me explaining the difference between the drilling and hydraulic fracturing phases of well development. Nothing from anyone that contradicted the narrative of the story that fracking had caused contamination with chemicals and fluids of the water wells.

Instead 5 seconds of my interview are edited brutally and misleadingly to build the narrative that fracking fluids contaminated water in Dimock.  As I left the affiliate's station, the cameraman for the interview asked, how I thought the interview had gone?  I replied that editing would provide the answer. 

While Pennsylvania's reporters like Don Gililland, Andrew Maykuth, Laura Legere, and Don Hopey often write factually accurate stories, the CBS story is an example of the national reporting about natural gas that misinforms, misleads, and misguides the public.

35 comments:

  1. Concerned ScientistJanuary 30, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    Unbelievable. More education needed. I have never seen an issue so rife with misinformation.

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    1. It's really not unbelievable. The media is in the pocket of environmentalists and progressives. New, clean energy is fighting a "war" against some very devious foes. The truth, is the truth. As long as energy companies divulge the truth, they will prosper.

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  2. John,

    That is unfortunate; clearly they didn't do a very good job... HOWEVER, If I am average citizen Johnny Doe, I don't really give a hoot about the semantics. IE, contamination is contamination, and the longer the industry tries to deny any and all problems, the more suspicious I become.

    Industry continues to stick to the line, "Hydrofracing has never caused any problems"... Maybe not. BUT oil and gas drilling has. Regularly throughout history. Now we are booting drilling. To pretend otherwise is an insult to human intelligence.

    It's too bad CBS didn't get the facts straight; however, most people don't really care whether or not it was the fracing, the casing, the methane, or the fracing fluids... or the air, or the frac pond, or the exploding well heads.

    Industry needs a new PR pro.

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    1. Concerned ScientistJanuary 30, 2012 at 11:34 AM

      Contamination is not contamination. Contamination of a few wells with methane from drilling is very different than systematic contamination with alleged cancer-causing chemicals from fracking.

      This is the point. Some wells have been contaminated with methane that comes from shallow sandstones and is not related to the Marcellus or fracking. Any well (including water wells or geothermal wells) that penetrated this interval could cause methane contamination if it is not done right.

      Frack fluids and the chemicals they add to the frack fluids are not getting into people's water from drilling or fracking in the Marcellus. No chemicals are getting in anyone's water from the bottom up in the Marcellus. There is a chance that there could be a spill on the surface that could cause a problem but this has only occurred in a very few cases during drilling of the Marcellus. This is very different than people's biggest fear which is systematic contamination of groundwater wherever fracking occurs. That isn't happening in the Marcellus and it is very important that people get that message as many are understandably concerned.

      CBS missed the story and is adding to the confusion.

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    2. Great post CS. A substantial percentage of water wells in PA already have naturally occurring methane. It is not a health concern. Obviously it's not GOOD that natural gas has occasionally exacerbated this in a few isolated (and preventable) incidents, but it's a far, far cry from contaminating water with chemicals.

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  3. I accept your point about what the public cares and your critique of the industry's communication rings true. In terms of good policy-making, the details and facts of what happened and what did not happen are vital. It drives me nearly crazy to see so many key errors in reporting.

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    1. Mr. Hanger ... you are assuming that the misleading statements and presentations are negligently issued rather than being a willful misstatement issued with the intent to defame the industry. Based on the experience you outline in your article, I think you are being way too charitable.

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  4. Had I been holding a brick last night, I'd be shopping for a new television this morning. What a rancid, obnoxious, steaming pile of nonsense! I assumed this was just typical sloppy/ignorant journalism in the national media and that those clips of you were pulled from the vault. I assumed I'd be reading on your blog this morning about your outrage from having not been contacted, but hearing that you sat down and went through this all with them and the STILL aired the garbage that they did is stunning. Absolutely stunning.

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    1. Walter would be spinning in his grave. CBS has completed its descent to the level of tabloid journalism.

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  5. John, excellent piece. I appreciate your courage in working to set the story straight and your willingness to engage with the public in this matter.

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  6. The first time I heard we had fracking chemicals in our water was at a press conference in October 2009 from the mouth of our then Attorney Alan Fuschberg..My head about flew off of my neck when he said he would prove it! I thought then and I think now, lots of luck with that.I have always stated methane in the water was our issue. It certainly was stirring up our water wells... until we had foamy gray smelly water..An independent test of the sample showed ethylene glycol and propylene glycols and 2 undetermined chemicals. Another test showed xylenes and toluene. A chemical DEHP was found in our water and our neighbors by DEP...today the Sautners water is foamy and brown. The Elys water pours brown and undrinkable from their well-3 children in that home. The Carters water clogs up their treatment system-that they purchased. Fortunately, these families now have water from EPA. DEP and CAbot shut them off! Drilling or the extraction of natural gas IS polluting drinking water supplies..You can get stuck on the murder weapon but there has been a murder here in Dimock. I cannot wait until the criminals are brought to justice.

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    1. Concerned ScientistJanuary 30, 2012 at 3:31 PM

      Based on the water analysis results that EPA was using that were put online it doesn't seem like any of those people had water that was any worse than many other people in NE PA including those far from drilling activity. Perhaps there is something that has been missed.

      When you say murder, what do you mean? Has anyone died? Is anyone sick from the water? What do you want to see in terms of justice? Do you think someone is intentionally trying to hurt you or that this was their intent when they drilled the wells?

      I only ever see water in jugs. It would be helpful for people to understand this if they could see it coming out of the tap brown or gray and foamy. For some reason people don't want to do that, they just carry around water in jugs. It was fishy in gasland when Josh Fox was in that person's house and they only wanted to show a jug of water and not turn on the tap. It would also be more compelling to have some tests that show something resembling frac fluid in someone's well. The Duke study which included many of these wells showed no frac fluid components in the water at all. And they definitely wanted to find them.

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    2. I suggest a road trip to Dimock. There are a few homes that could show you their water. No, there is not a death as of yet. I am trying to point out that folks drank their water B.C. before cabot and now they cannot. I guess we are arguing on how it got that way..spills, leaks, dumping or a significant number of improperly cased/cemented gas wells..Do you believe that it is just coincidence that the water in 33 families that I know of changed from clean and drinkable to brown, foamy, smelly or bubbly after drilling?? We did have a death, Ken Ely died 2 years ago of a massive heart attack.He was a man not adverse to exploitation of his natural resources. However, he saw things on his mountain, being done by the gas company, that terrified him.. The last time I saw him, a few weeks before his death he told me, Victoria, DO NOT drink the water.

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    3. http://youtu.be/86k_wK5m79A

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  7. To get a good sample of an aquifer supplying water to a water well requires more than turning on the tap and filling a jar. That is especially true for a water well which is not regularly used. One has to run the water for long enough to insure that the sample is of the aquifer supplying the well and not of old water sitting in a well for a long time that may have been contaminated by problems with the water we'll. It is also the case that high methane levels are associated with cloudy, milky water as the methane frees, mobilizes some elements. Getting a good sample requires rigorous procedures.

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    1. This is true and one of the concerns about Cabot's samples from information provided by one of the Attorneys working with several citizens. Cabot appears to have filtered the samples PRIOR to any analysis, this was discussed with Mike Knapp (above comment) and others several times. Cabot seems not to address the possible lack of common sense in how to sample a residential tap. This also violates Chapter 120 (if recall) on taking unfiltered samples from a properly purged tap. This is common for decades with PADEP sampleers. A poor novice or someone that wished to bias the data might try this trick that would essentially eliminate the organics and minimize the metals but definately not used to compare risk based concentrations on filtered samples.

      Possibly if Cabot had characterized the site as commonly done at both PADEP and EPA sites this would not be world wide news. The lack of enforcement by PADEP in characterization of this site (including background)seems to be a major flaw on their responses.

      The background report cited is a generic USGS report that has few wells relative to the Susquehanna County area. Typically, PADEP and EPA background is site specific and from the immediate area. Generic background information is fine for initial planning but poor to use for final interpretations.

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  8. The meaning of the word "fracking" (with a "ck" has been diverging for quite a while now from the proper abbreviation, "fracing" (with a "c") for hydraulic fracturing used in the oil and gas industry. The former is more of a rallying cry for everything we don't like about natural gas development in the Marcellus ranging from migrating methane, drilling fluid spills, excessive water tanker traffic on rural highways, to earthquakes at injection well sites, etc. The latter, as you note, has nothing to do with the events at Dimock. CBS' use of the word was much more in line with the former meaning, that is, fracking with a "ck" and its expanded, politicized meaning. The diagram used in the tv report was completely not-to-scale. The reporter probably failed to grasp that the shale is a mile or more below the ground water and that any contamination of it from fugitive completion fluid would be highly unlikely. That's not to say it wasn't contaminated by something else such as drilling fluid escaping from a poorly cemented well casing as it passes through the ground water while the well is under pressure.

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  9. It's not particularly surprising to me that the surface spills of contaminants originating from parts of Cabot's operations other than the fracking, are being called "contamination caused by fracking". The mainstream media, being beholden to the advertising dollars that it receives mostly from the consumption end of the fossil-fuel production-and-consumption cycle, is naturally going to want to use as many mentions as possible of a "bad" thing with a name like "fracking" to refer to the WHOLE cycle EXCEPT the consumption part. It would have been no more and no less accurate to pack the story with phrases like "contamination caused by energy consumers", but that wouldn't have served CBS's pecuniary interest.

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  10. The problem is not the public relations efforts by industry and its hires: it's the pervasive sense laziness by the media to not produce stories that represent facts. Media is about grabbing audience eyes and ears with provocative headlines. It's more enticing to more people to show a flaming faucet than an educated, informed scientist telling the truth.

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  11. First lesson in taking to media NEVER SAY ANTHING MORE THEN WHAT IS NEEDED. Been there done that! You will end up getting edited to look like an idiot and bring down your cause in the name of ratings. There is no story for the media when Hydraulic fracturing is declared safe. There not going to sell air time to both sides of the issue its not profitable for them. To bad it always comes down to the politicans on both sides who gets the most ends up making the policy.

    Next time go with a lawyer or a spokes person to protect yourself and your issue.

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    1. You make the key point that parts of media wants controversy and drama and bad news. They want bad guys and victims. They want a Hollywood narrative. All that sells better and is easier than grinding out the facts. It's like ideology: a way of not thinking and getting a shortcut to an answer.

      I have had the good fortune of having media people on a staff at different times in my career. I am a lawyer. I have done about 10,000 interviews in my career. Most have been with reporters who want to get it right. A few have been with those not wanting to get it right or unable to do so. This last category poses an impossible problem.

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  12. Concerned JournalistJanuary 30, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    Thank you for posting your comments. CBS should have used your interview to counter their argument instead of using it to further their point of view.

    What confuses me are the EPA findings of glycol compounds and other elements in the water. I know that many, like arsenic and sodium are naturally occuring. What about the ones that aren't? Where could they have come from?

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    1. There have been drilling pits, leaks, spills in the area. In other words, there are surface sources. There is also legacy activity in that area that could be a source as well

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    2. Concerned JournalistFebruary 3, 2012 at 11:05 AM

      So... no deep aquifer contamination, more likely human error mistakes.

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  13. Concerned Scientist: You mentioned water in jugs vs. water from the hose... if you want to know why the Sautner's only show their water in a jug, click this: http://www.knappap.com/content/SautnerWater.png

    Quite a difference, eh?

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    1. Concerned ScientistJanuary 31, 2012 at 3:38 PM

      I had a feeling...Thanks Mike

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  14. Concerned Scientist, Mr. Knapp, Mr. Hanger: I suspect that none of you ever lived in a house with good water that, after industrial activity nearby, became brown, foamy, and putrid. Seems you need to reach down to find a little empathy for the many, many people (is it hundreds or thousands?) in Appalachia and in the Western US now in this predicament.

    I notice you offer no response to Yoko's basic point, except, in Mr. Hanger's case, to explore the fascinating technical challenges of securing a good water sample.

    What people are saying is that families' lives are being ruined. It's not your family or your home, but the value of everything some people have is lost without drinkable water. Many people are not attorneys, and cannot afford to find (honest) attorneys to protect their interests. Contamination is not contamination, says Concerned Scientist, because it's methane but not hydro-fracturing chemicals destroying aquifers. But, houses without drinkable water cannot be sold, yet they cannot be lived in, and, in many cases, other gases liberated during drilling besides methane clearly pose significant health risks. It's not your kids, but children are sickened, perhaps for a lifetime, by living in such homes.

    In Pennsylvania, it's not just Dimock: DEP last May fined Chesapeake $900,000 for contaminating a much larger area of Bradford County than was contaminated near Dimock. Around the commonwealth, and in every state where shale gas development occurs, aquifers are being ruined, or at least rendered so unpalatable that the homes above are unlivable and unmarketable.

    So, gentlemen, surely you know that a Schlumberger study finds that casing failures occur in 20% of modern gas wells within five years; 40% within eight years. Be honest: Is this the price that some people who live in the "production zones" will just have to pay so others can cross the "bridge" to our Renewable Future? Put yourself in your brother's shoes. What do you tell him? Why should others like him not be petrified that it could happen to their family?

    This is why people are upset. Wouldn't you feel the same way if you lived there?

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  15. Lowly Vinter: I have been in some of the homes impacted. I have walked through a protest organized by pro-drilling people in the community to make one such visit. In fact I have made multiple visits to some of the homes. More importantly, I found and still find that drilling did contaminate 18 water wells with methane. I also won individual escrow accounts that averaged $201,000 per family and totaled $4.1 million for the 18 families. DEP fined Cabot $1.3 million; DEP ordered gas wells plugged ; other gas wells repaired, costing Cabot tens of millions in direct expense and lost revenues. Water was ordered to be delivered. And more. I was plenty upset for what happened.

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    1. Your quote.."Our goal is to find a permanent solution that will be agreeable to ALL parties". Truth? We found out about your deal with Cabot-already done-no imput from us or our attorneys- in a phone call. You never held Cabot accountable-first you forced them to sign-so they say- and then you did a deal that they did not have to accept blame for! The money in the escrow account is for water replacement or purchase then why the formula of twice the tax assessment? It is not a settlement, it is taxed. You should have included the homeowners in your discussion with Cabot. Cabot calls it a global settlement..I call it a dirty deal. In some homes, too many, the methane has NOT gone below your magic number of 7..yet DEP allowed Cabot to stop water. Offering a bogus treatment system and some money totally let Cabot off the hook. You were plenty upset? You should try to live here-surrounded by Cabot and their disciples..who have grown ever powerful BECAUSE they have been allowed to thumb their nose at DEP and now EPA. Sincerely, a very upset Yoko

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    2. The settlement between DEP and Cabot was not global because it did not include any homeowners. All other litigation was completely unaffected. The escrow payments were twice the property value were not contingent on dropping of any other suits seeking additional remedies. All such payments are taxable, as is the case with payments made in a court case. The escrow payments, however, did not require or allow any money to go to a plaintiff's attorney. There was no 30% or 40% going to an attorney. Paying twice the property value, keeping the property, including mineral rights, and allowing all other legal claims to proceed is a big result. It also does not include fines and other orders. Finally, you have a right to be angry.

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    3. Cabot announced their global settlement on line..and lawyers did take 1/3 of the funds..and it was not twice the value of the property..it was twice the tax assessment..not the real value of the property..we would have been happy with the real value and a treatment system of OUR choice, not installed by Cabot's boys and funds for water testing...you should have included the victims in the agreement..that would have been the right thing to do obviously not the easy thing.

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  16. Thank you, Mr. Hanger, for your humanity and for your partial reply. You are a figure of great significance in the short history of Eastern shale gas, and I was just wondering if you have developed any broader policy ideas. This problem will accelerate in the years ahead. I live in the region. I would leave if I could, but this is not an easy time to sell a home and land, and move on. Yet, if it's the will of the majority, then I wonder: is there a way to relieve the burden for the (sizable) minority?

    I love Appalachia and had planned to die here. But I also don't feel safe to make further investments that could be wiped out if my water is ruined because the guy next to me has a well that ends up among the 40% of failures by 2020. It's a huge problem, for everyone.

    Is this nimbyism? I don't know. I don't think I should be expected to watch everything I've worked for be ruined — or even be put in jeopardy — because some Americans and corporations want the gas in the ground under me. Our family of three would like to install wind and solar, don't use natural gas, drives a small car that gets 40 mpg, and uses 1,100 KW of electricity a month at the small home we built. We think hourly about our impact on the earth and the energy required.

    I wonder if industry and government would, for instance, develop a program to allow everyone who wants to leave to do so, to be properly compensated for their home and property's value. This would leave those who stand to directly benefit, plus those who already have, plus the energy companies with their leases, plus those who, for whatever reason, cannot afford to leave or who rent their land and have it damaged by the industry. There won't be many trees left in such areas, which isn't going to be a positive for climate change, but it's one idea.

    You are a huge supporter of the industry, for reasons you feel secure about. I was hoping you had a plan. My neighbor almost accidentally shot a group of Pennsylvania state troopers who banged on his door after dark recently, due to a dispute over a gas pipeline on the land beside him. As I say, the problems will accelerate and resistance is bound to grow and take more tragic forms.

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  17. Concerned ScientistFebruary 1, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    Lowly

    I do have compassion for people who do not have mineral rights who are affected by the drilling but see no direct financial gain from it. Is that your situation? I would guess that after most of the drilling in your area is done that things will improve. There should be more money and jobs in your area so I imagine your house value will go up beyond what you paid. People will eventually see that the fear of groundwater contamination is overblown. The vast majority of the time the groundwater is fine and the companies are getting better at avoiding the methane migration problems so this should only improve.

    The reason I come to this blog is that it is one of the few places where you hear what is true on this issue. There is so much misinformation out there and if half of it were true I'd be completely opposed to shale gas.

    You write of a Schlumberger report that states that 20% of all well casing fails after four years and 40% after 8 years. This is then taken to mean that groundwater will be contaminated around 40% of all wells within 8 years. I can assure you that this is either a complete misinterpretation or a deliberate misrepresentation of whatever it was that the Schlumberger report said. There is no way that is true. If you have a link to the paper please provide it so it can be accurately explained on this blog.

    This may be a very clever tactic to keep people scared even if the drilling around them seems to have occurred without contaminating groundwater.

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  18. Scientist:

    You come to this blog "to hear what is true," yet you spent your first paragraph offering several "guesses."

    A continuing problem with the "science" of shale gas is the way many practitioners weave fact with wishfulness, as you did, or as Prof. Terry Engelder did in his original calculations of reserves. It should go without saying that scientists and engineers are susceptible to human fallibility, but when "civilians" venture into your world, you want links so that studies "can be accurately explained on this blog."

    Schlumberger published a standard industry text on drilling, very well written even for non-specialists, that reports similar statistics on well failures. It sells on Amazon. Gas and pressurized liquid chemicals, if given a pathway, may go up; the water table is above areas being mined; concrete casing drilled through water strata cracks and degrades, or was installed poorly; contamination of aquifers, where it occurs, may take many years.

    My statement re: 40% defective well casings in 8 years was not meant literally, as I know failures may occur that don't cause damage; I meant it figuratively, but again: for people living in the production zone, we are now forced to include complete wipe-out in the matrix, in a way that people who don't live here don't have to.

    We know Dimock was not an isolated incident, and we saw the effects on everyone were highly corrosive. Industry and its generally compliant regulators insist that reform to the current "program" (a predatory approach to lease acquisition that pits neighbor against neighbor, combined with incentives for tremendous profits for a few, combined with colossal engineering errors causing horrible outcomes for some) is occurring. But, if the bad outcomes are so extreme, the possibility so difficult to calculate, and the forces aligned so intractable, expect natives who don't wish to be colonized or who aren't given viable ways to leave — whether it be Central, South, or Eastern America — to fight back, probably based on conclusions you consider "uninformed."

    If you're a scientist seeking truths, horizontal gas-drilling in Appalachia isn't fertile ground. In few places has it occurred for more than five years. But look at PA DEP's documented rate of casing failure so far. The early returns are not encouraging, and media reports in mid-2011, based on those facts, had the failure rate climbing.

    Thank you for clarifying whom you feel deserves compassion. We chose not to lease our mineral rights. We didn't getting a good feeling about the people we met.

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  19. Concerned ScientistFebruary 1, 2012 at 10:16 PM

    Lowly Vintner

    I can see that you are very upset. I hope you are wrong about violence. Good luck and I wish you well.

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