Thursday, June 21, 2012

Josh Fox & Rolling Stone Magazine Target Cuomo In New Horror Video

He's the anti-fracking Babe Ruth, a self-made celebrity, excellent at his arts of propaganda and issue advocacy and quick.  Within a week of the leaking of the Cuomo plan that would allow hydraulic fracturing in 5 counties,  Josh Fox releases 18 minutes of horror and fear, targeting the Governor. In addition, authored by its fair and balanced gas reporter, Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone Magazine has a promotional review and the video itself at the following link:

While effective propaganda that, for some, will be like warm milk to a cat, Fox's latest video is unsurprisingly riddled with errors and half-truths that are woven into a toxic political attack of the sort found regularly on right wing talk radio or Fox News.   This video confirms that one must be careful about believing information provided by those named Fox.

For example, even though it is now June 2012,  Josh Fox once more falsely leads viewers to believe that gas drilling wastewater is pouring into Pennsylvania's waters and that our drinking water is radioactive.  The radiation scaremongering is just too tempting to resist, no matter that it is 100% false.

Of course, Fox mentions not at all that massive testing of waters in Pennsylvania's streams and taps confirm that Pennsylvania's drinking water is not contaminated with radionuclides nor with drilling wastewater pollutants.  See for the test results by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, proving the water is safe. Another 14 drinking water companies, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, did testing for radionuclides of water at the tap and in streams and found the water safe.

The bottom line is that drinking water from public water systems is tested daily to assure it meets the Safe Drinking Water Act. Gas drilling wastewater is not polluting the drinking water of any public drinking water system or water customer in Pennsylvania.

Of course, Fox also does not mention that virtually 100% of Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater is now recycled, and none is discharged to rivers or streams.  He also does not mention the 5 regulatory packages passed from 2008 to 2011, including the August 2010 rule that protects Pennsylvania's streams from Total Dissolved Solids pollution from drilling and other sources.  

Those facts are not scary and are unhelpful to the mission of this video. But their exclusion and the use of "radiation" word to scare should destroy the credibility of Fox for those who want real information and not a horror movie.

The bulk of the movie, however, reflects an interesting strategic decision by Fox.  The video focuses largely on methane migration and essentially lets go the claim that hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals are returning from depths to widely pollute aquifers. 

By focusing on methane migration and the Colorado tap water fireball in Gaslands, Fox may well be replying to the new video Truthland that critiques Gaslands on this point. Whatever is Fox's  reason for focusing on gas migration, this is progress of a sort.

Unlike fracking fluids returning from depth, methane migration caused by mainly cementing mistakes is an issue. Yet Fox goes off the rails in dealing with methane migration in two critical ways.

First, Fox suggests that gas drilling mistakes cause all cases of methane in tap water. He seems determined to convince the viewer that it is impossible for gas naturally or prior to drilling to be in someone's water at levels that cause it to ignite.  Fox's position on the causation of gas in water is as silly and wrong as saying that gas drilling mistakes never cause gas to migrate and contaminate water wells.

While gas drilling errors have caused a small number of gas migration cases in Pennsylvania, Fox goes so far to suggest that methane is migrating from close to 50% of all wells ever drilled in the USA and world, an astounding suggestion that flies in the face of more than 100 years of gas drilling and cementing experience and 60 years of hydraulic fracturing. He directly states that the gas industry is engaged in a decades long global conspiracy to conceal what he claims are the massive numbers of gas wells that are causing large amounts of pollution to aquifers, wherever gas drilling has taken place for a century or more.  

No doubt, Josh Fox and Donald Trump could have a great time swapping conspiracy theories, and both have Manhattan abodes to make a meeting easy.  While I hope for that summit, while waiting, let's look at what has happened in the real world.

Pennsylvania itself has had approximately 400,000 gas wells drilled in its history and millions have been drilled in the USA.  If gas were migrating from gas wells at anything like the rate suggested in this video, gas faucets would be flaming in millions of homes in America and around the world. Obviously, they are not.

Instead, though the problem of gas migration is real, it is infrequent.  When it does infrequently occur, repairs to gas wells can be made that may stop the migration.

Whether repairs are successful or not, families, who have water polluted by gas drilling caused gas migration, should be paid twice the value of their property to compensate them fully and to push the gas drilling industry to make gas migration rarer still.

Beyond gas migration, the Fox video features prominently a study or two that are selectively chosen, without any serious, let alone full, discussion of the important issues raised. Other health data and information is of course ignored. Also, the video is full of scarily shot images of gas development, but you will not find any pictures of gas wells after the land has been restored.  Those look too normal, even beautiful.

The video ends by urging more renewable energy, something that I fully endorse.  But the viewer is not told that natural gas is displacing so much coal and oil that the US has reduced its carbon emissions more than any nation since 2006 and is on pace to exceed its Copenhagen Accord commitment of a 17% carbon reduction by 2020. The viewer is not told that coal generation has dropped from 52% of America's electricity in 2000 to 34% as of March, 2012.   Shale gas has made that all possible.

Shale gas has also slashed in the air the amount of mercury, lead, soot and other pollutants that sicken hundreds of thousands every year and cause tens of thousands of premature deaths. Natural gas emits virtually none of those pollutants, and natural gas power plants meet the EPA's new, tough Air Toxics and Cross State Air Pollution rules.

Of course, Fox totally ignores the approximately $1,500 per year savings per year in energy costs that many families have received, including in New York, as a result of shale gas.  The video contains not a second about landowners who have been able to stay on their land as a result of leases and royalties, and it has no time for the 1 million direct and indirect jobs the gas industry had created across America by 2010.

The movie is all fear all the time.  The fear-stirring in the video shows that Josh Fox and his supporters are afraid that Governor Cuomo may end the New York moratorium. The heat is certainly on Governor Cuomo.


  1. Concerned ScientistJune 21, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    The video is quite excruciating to watch for those interested in truth. It is a classic in propaganda.

    He blames the opposition of doing exactly what he is doing which is Karl Rove 101. Like Rove, he's really good at this game and terrible for the country.

  2. Yesterday, StateImpact reported a $1.6 million payout by Chesapeake Energy to three families in Bradford County who say their water was contaminated from methane migration. Chesapeake, the article says, has racked up 190 violations and previously paid $1.2 million in fines. You seem so sure that methane migration is "infrequent," and yet you acknowledge the very real problem of cement casing failures- which in my opinion after reading up on the matter, even from industry sources- are eventually going to occur. On what do you base the assumption that methane migration problems are infrequent?

  3. I also am surprised that you point to the 400,000 wells drilled in Pennsylvania with no large-scale methane gas migration problem reported. That sounds an awful lot like industry-speak. As you well know, the majority of those wells were drilled using different methods. Yesterday again, Stateimpact reported that DEP is investigating a possible water well contamination by Royal Dutch Shell (the company to which Governor Corbett proposes giving $1.65 billion tax credit).

    1. First, I have been adamantly stating now for years that gas migration is the real issue for gas drilling impacts on water wells. I have been urging both the industry and environmentalists to focus on this issue. I have pointed out time and again that this is the issue and not fracking fluids/chemicals returning from depth. Some in the industry refused to admit that cementing/drilling mistakes could cause gas to migrate. Some environmentalists wanted more--they wanted the facts to show that fracking fluids/chemicals are returning from depth to aquifers. Both assertions are wrong.

      Perhaps now everyone is focusing on gas migration. If so, that is progress.

      I pointed out that PA has drilled 400,000 wells and millions have been drilled in the USA to discuss whether a claim that 50% of wells are leaking methane is plausible. We have decades and decades of experience to test such claims. Gas migration cases involving cementing failures happened well before the first Marcellus well but also were infrequent in the pre-shale well period. Wells have been cemented for a very, very long time. If 50% of wells leak, PA, the USA, the world would have millions of cases of water wells, homes contaminated. That has not happened. In my experience, when Secretary, gas wells had a leakage rate of less than 1%. Repairs worked in some cases but not all. This leakage rate was not acceptable to me, and so I did many things, including summoning the entire industry to Harrisburg in the spring of 2010 to discuss the issue, enacting much stronger drilling/cementing regulations, and more than doubling the number of state employees doing full-time gas oversight. I also support payments equal to double the property value for any landowner whose well is contaminated by methane, whether or not gas well repairs fix the problem.

      And then the reality is that coal and oil production around the world cause much greater environmental impacts than gas does.

  4. It's also worth noting that methane migration is only an issue in specific, confined areas. In Northeastern PA, there are large, gas bearing formations just underneath the surface. The same formations that we have been targeting for gas production in Western PA for 100 years, where the formations are thousands of feet below the surface. We have no such methane migration issues here, because there is simply no gas to migrate.

    But, back to the larger issue (Josh Fox), folks need to realize that videos such as the one he posted have nothing to do with fact, and have nothing to do with protecting the environment. They are self-promotional infomercials meant to fatten Mr. Fox's wallet. Josh Fox is making millions of dollars of his "grass roots" campaign, and he doesn't care who he has to throw under the bus or who he has to stab in the back to achieve that goal.

    1. Your point about the PA gas migration cases being geographically concentrated in a few counties, mainly Bradford, Tioga, and Susquehanna counties, is important.

    2. I disagree with your 2nd statement. Although he may be getting rich, as is Al Gore, it doesn't mean they aren't concerned with the environment. That's like saying Berman is only concerned with getting rich and not about big business. I'm sure he LOVES being rich, but he probably also legitimately loves big business too. There's (assuming you're correct, and I'm kindof insulted saying its not a grassroots effort, opposition needs funding) one person making boatloads being AGAINST the industry, there's probably several 100 FOR it. To me that's who people should be focusing on. We need a better target.

      @John - I question the net job numbers, since as you point out it causes losses in other areas, and as you know, the industry (and I believe the state?) double-counts. I'm of course biased as my family members will be losing their coal-based jobs.

      For anyone who knows me I support the moving away from both coal and natural gas.

    3. The only way Fox has to keep money coming in is to keep peddling fear. Fox's success in fear peddling is why the Sierra Club is on their new mission - they want some of that fear money.