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CleanSkies Sunday: Oil Spill & Jobs


The segment in the transcript below starts at 11:00 minutes into the video.


[McGINNIS] Welcome back to "Clean Skies Sunday." The Gulf spill is shining a spotlight on the environmental and health effects of generating all forms of energy. And now a new film is generating some buzz in energy circles, professing to expose the dangers of a type of natural gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing.

[MAN] Whoa! Jesus Christ!

[McGINNIS] "Gasland" filmmaker Josh Fox shows startling shots of folks lighting their faucet water on fire purportedly due to hydraulic fracturing. This is the method used to extract natural gas from shale rock. It involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals underground.

[WOMAN] It bubbles and hisses when it comes out. I won't drink it.

[McGINNIS] The film tries to illustrate that the practice holds environmental and health risks. We invited two experts to debate the issues raised in the film and issues hydrofracking now faces. Richard Haut, from the Houston Advanced Research Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan center, and Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting in Ithaca, New York, which provides data to engineers and municipalities on contaminated properties. Here is some of that debate.

Flammable drinking water -- you can't argue with these graphic images, folks lighting their faucet water on fire, and this is apparently due -- and I'll ask you first, Rich -- to the practice of hydraulic fracturing leaving natural gas seeping into drinking water. Is this what's happening there?

[HAUT] Well, when I watched "Gasland," my first reaction was, my heart really goes out to these people. Everybody has the right to clean water here. And then I started looking into it, and it's a form of biogenic gas. And what that means, it's separated from thermogenic gas. Thermogenic gases are natural gas that we look at down in the gas shales themselves, and it's what we're trying to produce here.

The biogenic gas occurs in very shallow formations. It's created by bacteria, it's caused by landfills and other things. Every single one of those cases in Colorado, they are caused by biogenic gas. And so, when we look at the gas coming out of these faucets, it is not the natural gas that we are looking at when we drill these wells into the gas shales.

[McGINNIS] I've heard also that this methane migration can occur naturally. Walter, what do you say about these shots of folks lighting their faucet water on fire?

[HANG] Well, in New York State, Toxics Targeting reviewed more than 300,000 spills, many of them associated with gas drilling and oil drilling. We have state Department of Environment, the conservation documents that clearly show that gas has blown it right out of the ground, migrated through fractures in the rock, traveled as far as 8,000 feet in a matter of minutes, and literally has come blasting up inside people's homes, polluted their wells, was literally jetting out of the ground. People had to run for their lives because of this flammable gas.

I found a person in Candor, New York. There was seismic investigation going on near his home, and so they think that this may have been the cause of the gas that now is coming out of his faucet, and he, too, can light his water. So this kind of mining is very, very potent and there are lots of problems according to the data in New York fires, explosions, people being evacuated, polluted wells -- the data are absolutely sound.

[McGINNIS] Rich, how do we get to the bottom of this flammable water issue?

[HAUT] If we look at gas around the United States, 20% of that gas is biogenic, created by the bacteria in small formations, very uneconomical for people to go after. You can actually do a test and look at the isotopes and test that gas to see where it is coming from. Is it biogenic or is it thermogenic? Now, if it is biogenic, that means it is not coming from the gas shales. Like I said, the ones that were particularly pinpointed through "Gasland" in the movie there -- the Markham house, the McClure house, and the West Divide Creek -- were all biogenic gas.

[McGINNIS] Let's move on -- I wanted to point out that the producers of this film will not allow "Clean Skies" to air any clips from the film, though plenty are available on YouTube and elsewhere. One of the scenes shows a couple holding up a mason jar filled with water. Very, very dirty water, they said it came right out of the tap -- extremely graphic image. Give me a sense, Rich, how large of a risk is there to contaminated ground water caused by hydraulic fracturing?

[HAUT] You have thousands and thousands of feet of rock between the gas that we're looking at, the gas shale, and the fresh water zones. Then we have to look at the well construction itself. We have to ensure that this well is constructed in a proper manner, so there's certain design procedures, certain drilling procedures and everything that must be followed. It's required by law, and the state laws are very particular about where a casing, a piece of pipe, has to be set through and across the freshwater sands.

[McGINNIS] Rich, in a word, could hydraulic fracturing cause this dirty water -- yes or no?

[HAUT] There has been no known case where hydraulic fracturing has caused a channel to occur from the producing formation up into the freshwater zone.

[McGINNIS] Walter, you saw this mason jar full of dirty water, and you agree this could happen because of the practice?

[HANG] It has happened in New York. You can see a video of a fella named Dave Eddy in Allegheny County. They were fracking at a well across the street from his home. They told him they were going to frack, and a few minutes later, this incredibly dirty, toxic water came blasting out of his faucet, as his children were taking a bath.

You have the theory where there are regulatory controls, where you have all these engineering controls, everything is done safely. Then you have the reality of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf, where things go wrong -- there are fires, these are explosions, there's contamination. All the seals fail, the annular cementing fails, and the next thing you know, you have an uncontrolled problem.

[McGINNIS] The debate continues on our Web site --