Friday, March 2, 2012

Rolling Stone Magazine Sadly Regurgitates NY Times Greatest Gas "Hits"

Jeff Goodell, the author of "The Big Fracking Bubble: The Scam Behind the Gas Boom," should split his pay with the NYT gas reporter, because Goodell regurgitates all the NYT's greatest gas hits, including ones that the NYT Public Editor found to be misleading or false.  Goodell even uses many of the NYT reporter's characters--Art Berman, Deborah Rogers, and Anthony Ingrafea--to voice his narrative.

So the reader of Goodell's piece in the March 15, 2012 Rolling Stone is treated once more to the narrative that shale gas drilling is a "ponzi scheme" that has inflated a "bubble" that will crash but, before it does, "fracking" is polluting Pennsylvania's water with radionuclides, where there is little regulation. 

Of course, Goodell does not tell his readers about radionuclide test results or  that Pennsylvania issued 1200 violations to the industry in 2010 and 1100 in 2011, many more than any other state in the country, according to the recent study by the University of Texas.

The only new twist in the Goodell piece is that he tells readers that Chesapeake Energy and its Chief Executive, Aubrey Mclendon, "dominates America's supply of natural gas" the same way the Tea Party financing Koch brothers dominate pipelines and refineries.

Normally a company that dominates a market manages to avoid a price collapse of its product.  Chesapeake Energy strangely has used its supposed dominance of America's supply of natural gas to drive the price of natural gas down from $13 to $2.50 for a thousand cubic feet. In Pennsylvania alone, more than 60 companies are producing gas so perhaps Goodell means that Chesapeake Energy dominates the politics of shale gas.

Indeed, by using right from the start the words "dominate" and "right wing billionaire," comparing McClendon to the Koch Brothers, invoking Tea Party as well as the notorious Swift Boat attacks on Senator Kerry's Vietnam military service, Goodell begins with a political horror show for Blue America. He is telling his Blue America readers that Red America is controlling natural gas and to be on guard or, better still, very scared. The piece is more a political scream than a serious energy article, but it will be lapped up by many.

After his political warning to the Northeast and, as the nutty, dangerous Arizona Sheriff Arpaio and Rick Perry endorser would say, to the followers of the Kenyan, Muslim, Socialist occupying the presidency, Goodell is back to the NYT's greatest gas and fracking hits.  Ponzi scheme?

America produced a record amount of natural gas in 2011 and, thanks to shale gas, is the biggest natural gas producer in the world.  Shale gas production has now been booming for 5 years and provides 30% of America's world-leading natural gas suply.  The truly enormous actual production numbers and the collapsed price of gas, despite rising demand for gas, destroy the credibility of the ponzi scheme smear, even without diving into the reserve numbers.

Not satisfied with the ponzi scheme lie, Goodell hurls another rhetorical bomb by charging the industry is a "bubble."  Of course after the "internet bubble" and then the "housing bubble" that nearly created a depression,"bubble" is an explosive, fearful word.  It is also a strange one to use here, because the price of gas is not inflating but has been driven down by huge new production.  Consumers have saved about $1,000 per year in lower heating bills and electricity bills.  These savings are great for all consumers but protect the health and safety of about 25% of Americans, who have difficulty affording heat for their homes, as they have incomes that don't allow purchases of Rolling Stones Magazine.

After a dose of ponzi and bubble, we got to have some radiation to scare us all. While raising one more time the Pennsylvania drinking water radiation scare, Goodell of course does not report the results of massive testing for radionuclides done by drinking water suppliers of both water in streams and water coming out of taps.  The results are incovenient to the drama.

There is no radionuclide pollution of drinking water in Pennsylvania.  Zero. None.  See the tests results that have been documented in numerous posts in this blog. But that truth will never catch up to the lie cleverly spread and repeated.

Just about the only part of the Goodell piece that has some redeeming quality is when it highlights methane migration from poor drilling as a real problem.  It is, and too many companies in the industry lawyer-up and fight victims of gas migration, as opposed to fixing the problem and working to reduce the incidence. But even here Goodell is manipulative.

Gas migration results from mistakes in gas drilling and not in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking phase.  With the important possible exception of Pavillion Wyoming, there is not one case of fracking fluids, when sent down the well, returning from depth to contaminate an aquifer.

The Duke University study of water wells in Pennsylvania that Goodell cites in fact found no fracking fluids had contaminated the water wells tested but methane had. It made two basic findings: frack fluids are not contaminating water wells but methane was found at high rates.

Goodell, however, repeats the methane contamination finding of the Duke study, without telling his readers that Duke found no frack fluids in the water wells.

Goodell ends the piece by saying, without any basis, that using less gas does not mean using more coal.  This assertion is false.  Counting corn ethanol and big hydro, renewable energy provides about 11% of America's total energy, more than nuclear power.  Wind and solar are growing fast and costs are declining, but they provide less than 2% of our total energy.

Approximately 80% of our total energy comes from oil, natural gas, and coal. There is no way that renewables can replace that 80% tomorrow or in the next 10 years.  The most aggressive renewable energy state is California, and it will get 33% of its electricity (not total energy) from renewables by 2020, with about 50% of its electricity coming from natural gas at that point.

When big coal plants close, as they are doing in record numbers, they are being replaced substantially by gas, with renewables also playing a role. Yet, until energy storage breakthroughs occur, intermittent wind and solar can make important contributions but cannot replace by themselves baseload coal plants.  Only gas or nuclear plants can take the place of coal plants that now run night and day.

In 2005, prior to the shale gas boom, America stood ready to build 150 new coal plants.  Most of those proposed new coal plants have not been built and now old coal plants are closing.  Low-priced natural gas, more than anything else, stopped another wave of big coal plants and is now making old, inefficient coal plants close. Pretending otherwise may comfort Goodell but is not real.


  1. Well written and very informative. "..too many companies in the industry lawyer-up and fight victims of gas migration, as opposed to fixing the problem and working to reduce the incidence." That line stands out in BOLD to me as a big part of the problem.

  2. It is a big part of the problem. The national media needs no excuse to write harsh narratives about gas.

  3. I concur with Mr. Rossi on the well written and very informative statements.

    With that being said, at least if they are going to write articles of that nature, they might want to make sure they have all of the facts, and links, or black and white data to back what they are saying. Also I am very glad to see that someone finally speaks the very unknown point that the Hydraulic Fracturing process does not, and did not contaminate any aquifer. I am a resident from the area the "drilling boom" has been taking place and there are areas here that gas has migrated from water wells for years prior to this as your very obvious point states of the vent cap on nearly all water wells in the area.

  4. Chesapeake has circulated a PDF in which it recounts much of the information laid before this Rolling Stone reporter -- and therefore everything that he simply chose to ignore:

    Clearly, ignorance or sloppiness is no longer a workable excuse for this kind of journalism.

    1. Concerned ScientistMarch 4, 2012 at 5:32 PM

      Amazing...I've never seen anything like it except perhaps the buildup to the Iraq war

  5. John, your assessment of the Duke Study is flawed. The Duke Study did not test for fracking chemicals and did not imply that they found fracking did not contaminate the aquifer. Duke used statements that did not clearly say what they meant and it's been circulated incorrectly. Duke did not test for fracking chemicals. And as far as electric bills coming down, they have not come down for us here in Susquehanna County, Pa.; the Electric rates per KWH have gone up since last winter.

  6. I was recently with professor Jackson who was one of the researchers that did the Duke study. He stated exactly what I said the Duke study found. The study itself also says what I said it said. Methane yes. Fracking fluids no.

    EIA and PJM data shows electricity prices down sharply since 2008. Wholesale PJM prices have declined for generation from 13 cents to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

    PPL, PECO, First Energy, DQE all have lowered their default electric rates. Many competitive electricity suppliers have done the same. I buy 100% wind power and would encourage all to do the same.

    1. Methane yes, specifically shale-gas methane (thermogenic), as opposed to surface methane from rotting plants, as certain gas drilling companies continue to claim.

  7. Very well rewritten rebuttal of the truth Mr. Hanger. I am a longtime investor of Chesapeake, and I must tell you that I am so sick and tired of the blatant lies and crap that the ignorant "journalists", politicians with agendas, and misguided environmentalists (whom never see the far bigger picture while entirely ignoring the huge benefits that they along with society enjoy from the very industry that they attack). Kudos to somebody who shows how this author of the Rolling Stone article should be nothing less than ashamed and embarrassed for being manipulative, a liar, and woefully ignorant.

  8. Concerned ScientistMarch 4, 2012 at 5:30 PM


    John has already addressed this but this is from the abstract of the Duke paper:

    "We found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids. "

    They looked for and did not find any evidence of fracking chemicals.

    Electric rates are down all across the country as a result of shale gas

    "A shale-driven glut of natural gas has cut electricity prices for the U.S. power industry by 50 percent and reduced investment in costlier sources of energy."

  9. When I saw the Rolling Stone article circulating around, I only had to read the first paragraph and I immediately thought of what you were going to say in rebuttal. All things you've said before about other publications trying to push the ponzi scheme etc.

    I wonder, though, if there isn't a kernel of insight to take away from Goodell. You're right, it's a political scream, but isn't it one that's needed? Looking at PA's Act 13, there's a clear connection between campaign donations from industry, and yes votes in favor of what smart organizations like PennFuture maintained was bad legislation. Here in Indiana County, our planning commissioners saw that passage as politics as usual, rather than good science or good land usage. In particular, they bristled at the fact that due to Act 13, their authority to protect our county's natural areas has been seriously diminished.

    I don't know if that's Red vs. Blue, or if it's corporations vs. people, or the 1% vs 99%, but I think it's an important story.

  10. John, Excellent response. Those of us who understand how oil & gas extrtaction occurs also understand that we have the obligation to do it in nthe very best, ecologically sound manner possible. I believe most of the industry strives to do so. Inevitably, as with all human activities, there will be some accidents, but we must strive to minimalize any such incidents, and fix those that happen. I certainly appreciate your expertice and viewpoints on all of these matters.

  11. John, As a resident of Pa ,I have found you to be not as wholesome as your listed resume. You lost me in the film Gasland. PaDep has to protect the air, land, and water.
    The people of Dimmock who had to put up with all that BS for all these years really pissed me off. Hell. that could be you or me. To order Cabot to bring in fresh water from Montrose was a good thing and I agree with you that drilling over 100 yards or what ever would not guarantee a solution. DEP's cowardly retreat from that position showed it was a paper tiger. If you really believed in your convictions that the drinking water in Dimmock and the water testing was responsible , then you should have drank the water that Josh Fox offered to you. Ed Rendell said he was the gas industries biggest cheerleader, and I guess he took you with him.

    1. I am not surprised I lost in you in the film Gasland, since the approximately 1 hour interview with me was extensively edited to say the least. Also the film got major factual issues wrong--Dunkard Creek, budget details for DEP and more.

      On the water pipeline, the results of the 2010 election ended any possibility of it being built. Instead of just closing up shop and leaving, Governor Rendell and I won a $4.1 million payment from Cabot in December 2010 in the form of individual escrow accounts averaging 201,000 for each family. We fined cabot $1.5 million. We required it to plug 3 gas wells and repair others, costing them tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues and direct costs. We withheld permits. We did more. That is not cheerleading for the industry.

  12. DO NOT CALL President Obama a "Kenyan, Muslim, Socialist"! He is American, Christian and a Democrat! Being disrespectful makes me click away from your site and its message immediately!

  13. please re-read the use of those words. The post is mocking those who describe the President in that way like Sheriff Arpaio.

  14. I am a previous employee of Chesapeake and now work with a global petroleum company operating in shale gas drilling and gathering. I know first hand that most gas and oil operators are very acute to their potential environmental impact and spend vast amounts of money and time in the attempt to minimize their impact to the surrounding community. As with any industry 100% is a goal that is not always attained. The industry knows this and places great focus in reaching that goal.

    What is not known by most outside the industry is that landowners that own the surface and mineral rights to their land, as a whole, are a very happy group. In reverse landowners with only the surface rights to their land seem to feel cheated and are generally opposed to our activities. Money seems to always be the game changer.

    I feel a good journalist would check out the complaining party for ulterior motive just as he investigates the party being accused. Unfortunately it is evident that Mr. Goodell was not looking for the truth.