SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
JEFF TESTER: Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to welcome you here to this interesting seminar that we've tried to put together. I'm Jeff Tester, associate director for energy in the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. This set of presentations is being co-sponsored by Cornell University Press and the Atkinson Center. And we hope-- I'd like to share with you some ideas, particularly from my vantage point as being involved with the Atkinson Center, as to how this fits nicely into what we're trying to do.
A keystone element of the mission of the Atkinson Center is to connect faculty and their research across disciplinary lines to tackle the challenges of sustainability that deal with energy, environment, and economic development in their appropriate domains, and to have those sort of interactions occur in an essential manner. These three Es-- Energy, Environment, and Economic development-- are deeply embedded in the stories covered by these two authors, Tom Wilber and Seamus McGraw, in their marvelous books that they'll be sharing some of their insights with us today.
Both authors describe how people, communities, governments, and regulators are dealing with the development of Marcellus shale. Their writings describe how people are making decisions about energy transitions within a maze of uncertainties about the economic, environmental, and health risks, and their potential benefits and tradeoffs within a very complex structure of social and political issues, along with a fair amount of ideological polarization.
Regrettably, there has been a lack of transparency and clarity by both the industrial sector and the regulators about what is actually known quantitatively about the underlying science, as well as what constitutes best engineering practice for shale gas development, including its production and transmission and distribution to end users. This includes how wells are completed and monitored to ensure and warranty their integrity for the long term, the magnitude of seismic risks, how water associated with hydraulic fracturing and gas production will be monitored and managed, and the magnitude of fugitive emissions of methane and other pollutants.
As very experienced writers and journalists, Seamus McGraw and Tom Wilber have explored virtually all aspects of shale gas development in their books. And I'm delighted that they're here this afternoon to share their insights with us. At this point, I'm going to turn over the rest of the event to Wendy Wolford, who is our associate director for economic development in the Atkinson Center.
WENDY WOLFORD: We have two presentations today by Tom Wilber and Seamus McGraw. Both of them speak for roughly 20 to 25 minutes, first Tom Wilber and then Seamus McGraw, and then we'll open up for questions. So thank you very much, Tom.
TOM WILBER: Thank you. And can I come over here? I have to stand up and move around to see everyone. Thank you, Wendy. Thank you, Jeff. And thank you the folks at the Atkinson Center and for Cornell University Press for arranging this seminar. And thank you, everybody, for coming out today. And I know a lot of people have been following this story closely. And I'm especially interested in the grassroots aspect, and I'll talk a little bit about that. I'll also talk about the theme of today's presentation, the future of shale gas, and whether we're entering perhaps a golden age or a dark age in the question of sustainability.
But first, I want to put this-- give you some context historically, and go back a little bit and talk about how we got to where we are now. And I started covering Marcellus shale development and natural gas development in general when I was a reporter with Press & Sun-Bulletin. Worked there for many years covering health and environmental beats. And for years and years, the natural gas was one of many stories that I covered in upstate New York. And of course, most people are familiar with the conventional gas development that was happening in western New York for some time in the 1990s, the Trenton-Black River formation. It was one of many stories. It was a small part of the overall economy.
In the 1990s and then after the turn of the century, the price of gas started going up. And that was a little bit more relevant, because we had some exploration going in the Broome County area, which was the core of our readership. But it wasn't until 2008 that we really woke up to what unconventional gas development was about. And what woke us up was a deal with a group of farmers in eastern Broome County who banded together to form a coalition to negotiate their mineral rights with gas companies.
And we didn't really know a lot about this, although we were hearing-- this is in the news room, in the Press & Sun-Bulletin, stories that they were-- farmers that were getting offered a relatively large amount for their mineral rights. Traditionally, mineral rights, if they were released at all in Broome County, were $5, $10 an acre. And there was rumors and reports that the offering now was going up to $300, $400, $500 an acre.
Dewey Decker, who is the town of Sanford supervisor, organized this group of farmers. And they negotiated a deal with XTO Energy for $110 million to open 50,000 acres for drilling. And this all of a sudden went from being just another story to the story. We understood right away that this was something special with this type of money on the table.
So the questions follow. What was this? Why was it different? Why was it commanding such a high price? And then we started learning about the Marcellus shale, the difference between shale gas development, unconventional drilling. And I won't go into a lot of detail here. I think most people are probably well versed in high-volume hydraulic fracturing and the difference between conventional formations.
Very generally speaking, this is the map of the Marcellus shale. And you see it extends from southwestern Pennsylvania and into Upstate New York. And that's the drilling fairway. And that's the place where the most promising gas development is thought to-- is being proven right now.
Now there's something else that's unique about the shale gas story, and that is-- and in Upstate New York in particular-- and that is this idea of stacked formations. So you've heard of the Marcellus shale, and you've probably heard of the Utica shale, which is underneath it. And both the Marcellus and the Utica are at depths right along the Pennsylvania border into Upstate New York that makes them both viable targets. And so this increases the incentive to drill. And then you have conventional formations sandwiched in between. So Upstate New York really has a bonanza, a wealth of natural gas formations or pay zones underneath it.
So again, in 2008, we were trying to get our minds around this to figure out all this. And I will mention that we began doing our homework. And one principal person who was most knowledgeable about shale gas and the Marcellus Shale in particular is here tonight. He drove up from Pennsylvania. That would be Terry Engelder. Terry, you want to raise your hand here?
Terry was an early source of mine at the newspaper, because he was very helpful. He's spent his entire career at Penn State and other places, understanding shale gas and the geology to it. And he was one of the first that put a figure on the number of cubic feet in the Marcellus. And that helped everybody understand the value of the resource.
So now-- oops. There we go. So $110 million for 50,000 acres. Well, we were going to get clean-burning energy from underneath the land. A natural gas, which is understood to be cleaner than coal. What was not to like about this? Some farmers that were having problems paying their taxes now would become millionaires. There was a lot of enthusiasm about this. This was before frack was a bad word.
So how did we get from there to where we are now? A lot of people will-- and we'll talk a little bit about Josh Fox and his influence in the anti-fracking movement. But really, how this started the situation in New York wasn't with anti-fracking activists or institution-- environmental institutions. It was with the townspeople.
And a lot of the early questions came from farmers who had done their homework, and they were in places outside of Sanford County that were also negotiating deals with landmen. And they had a lot of questions about, if they signed leases, what would this-- what would this look like? How would it be regulated? There would be public safety issues, road issues, noise issues. All sorts of things. So they started getting together at the town meetings, asking the regulatory body, in this case, the DEC, how this would happen. The DEC sent out various staff to these meetings to try to answer the questions.
And I'm just going to read a little bit from the book about the early days there, and really, what ended up being the genesis of this anti-fracking movement. There was one particular meeting in the town of Shenango. And this was attended by DEC staffer Linda Collart, and representatives of the Farm Bureau who were doing a good job going out and trying to explain to people what they needed to know in terms of leasing their land, and what it would look like with development. And also a representative of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. OK.
"They sat in front of several hundred residents, suburbanites, farmers, and officials from the town, county, and state governments, who packed the public hall beyond capacity. The meeting was also streamed online. Collart ran through a PowerPoint presentation of how Marcellus development would proceed, using information and photographs from the conventional plays in Upstate New York. She paused on a slide showing a lush meadow of wildflowers and grasses with a bank of trees in the background. 'This was a reclaimed natural gas site,' she said, 'and an example of the expected long-term impact from Marcellus development.'
I recognized the slide from a DEC display two years earlier when I was covering a public hearing on a proposal for the Office of Mineral Resources to lease the mineral rights of state forests in the southern tier and central New York. Marcellus prospecting had yet to become a public phenomenon, and there had been no mention of shale gas at those meetings. Nonetheless, prospects of any kind of drilling on state land drew fierce oppositions from outdoor enthusiasts ranging from hunters to hikers.
At these hearings, Jack Dahl, director of the DEC Bureau of Oil and Gas Regulations, set up a display with his colleagues pitching clean, well-organized drill sites, including before and after landscape depictions. The display had included the photograph that Collart now showed, and Dahl had given a similar assessment of the impacts from gas development due to the, quote, 'well established regulatory program and rigorous permitting process of the agency would be minimal or even environmentally beneficial over the long term.'
The crowd at the Shenango town hall was skeptical. People fired questions at the panel before Collart's presentation was over. A person in back stood up and asked how local emergency responders could prepare for a spill, fire, or explosion when the industry did not fully disclose the complete chemical content and concentrations of fracking fluids.
Collart looked at the other members of the panel to see if anybody might want to take a crack at that one. They looked back at her expectantly. 'We don't anticipate any significant emergencies,' she said after a pause. 'These things are rare.' Another person stood up and asked how regulators were preparing for an influx of drilling that would exceed any historical comparison. Collart responded, 'we have been doing fine so far. No problems.'
She returned to her PowerPoint and was interrupted again by a person who noted that 'incentives for roadside dumping would go up as waste increased faster than options for treatment. How would the agency handle that?' 'You have land owners out there. You have neighbors out there. We would hear about,' Collart said. 'Hopefully the operators will be responsible.'
More questioning along the same lines followed her presentation, and she delivered the same answers. 'Flowback is classified as an industrial waste, and therefore requires a permit for transport,' she said again, and again came a question. 'Where does it go?' 'I can't answer that,' she said. 'It's all regulated,' she added."
So after this meeting, the day after this meeting, as a matter of fact, I got a call from the governor's office explaining that the subsequent meeting, which was scheduled for the following night in Greene, was a little bit further north, Linda Collart would have some other guests along with her, and they would be some top-ranking officials from, at that time, was Governor Paterson's office. Included Stuart Gruskin, who was assistant commissioner, and Judith Enck who was an adviser to the governor.
Now Enck is an important figure in all this. She came-- unlike the Jack Dahl and the people in the Oil and Mineral Division who were rank-and-file staffers, they came up through the agency, Enck was an environmental activist from NYPIRG before her career developed. And she was recruited by Spitzer when he was attorney general. And one of his main goals then was to shut down dirty coal plants. And so they were a target.
When Spitzer became governor, he brought Enck on as his chief advisor. When Spitzer resigned after the sex scandal, Enck remained on for Paterson. And it was really-- she was hugely instrumental in crafting this SGEIS, this policy that would say, wait a minute. We really don't have a policy. We need to stop and do a long review.
Now in the meeting in Greene, when she came out with Stuart Gruskin, the crowd-- it was a-- this is a rural community. It's very small. And so they had their meeting in a high school auditorium, and it was standing room only again. And these were townspeople, people that were interested in leasing their land. They weren't anti-frackers. They just had a lot of questions.
And Enck's response was much different than Collart's. She said, these are very good questions. You need to hold our feet to the fire. We'll have to have a good response. We'll find out the answers. And so there was some internal struggle within the DEC, some debate. And in the end, Enck was an instrumental figure in putting together the SGEIS, the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, that is now-- we're still waiting for the conclusion of that.
I will add, at that time even people that were interested-- were interested in seeing fracking move forward, Senator Tom Libous, for example, and others, thought the SGEIS review was a good idea. They expected that it might take a year. They thought it was a good idea that the state would take some time to get some answers to this question. They did not anticipate, however, that it would go on more than a year. And so here we are, five years later, still waiting for the outcome. And I'll talk a little bit about that in terms of the-- as we talk about the future and where this is going.
Now I'm not quite sure when the clock started, so I want to be mindful of the time. Wendy, we have what? 10, 15 more minutes? 15 minutes? OK. I'll watch from here. Thank you. Because I can talk for a long time about this. An hour and a half presentation is certainly not too long, and I'm going to try to condense it down a little bit.
So everybody wanted to learn about shale gas, including the state. And everybody wanted to understand not only the ins and outs and the mechanics and the geology and the economics and everything about shale gas, but they also had to start understanding policy. And understanding state policy is not an easy thing.
But in terms of understanding what it would look like, everybody looked across the border to Pennsylvania, because Pennsylvania has a much different legacy than New York. Pennsylvania was not so cautious about going ahead. Pennsylvania, of course, has a long legacy of coal mining and quarrying and petroleum development. And Seamus probably has some experiences and some things he might address with that. I won't go into too much with it. But suffice it to say that the mindset in New York has been traditionally more of land preservation with the Adirondacks, the Finger Lakes, the Catskills. And I'm generalizing here, but in Pennsylvania, they have much more of a comfort and tolerance with the mineral extraction industry.
So I got calls from various sources. In some of them, Dan Fitzsimmons was a landowner, very eager to see shale gas development start in New York state. And he said, Tom, you've got to get down to Dimock, Pennsylvania. Things are really kicking off down there. There's a lot of drilling. You've got to see this. So everybody started looking at Dimock, Pennsylvania. And there's-- for this and for other reasons, Dimock, Pennsylvania became the showcase for what mineral extraction and shale gas development would look like in Pennsylvania.
And originally, there was a lot of expectations among landowners that it would be a wonderful thing, for the same reasons that the folks in New York state were anticipating that it would be a good thing. Now the landowners in Dimock, Pennsylvania, a lot of them leased their land for $25 an acre, not knowing or understanding the resource that was underneath it. So they looked across at New York after the-- New York State, they were a little wiser after Dewey Decker and his crew landed the multimillion dollar deal. But they were still hopeful that they would gain some good royalties, and it would even be life-changing royalties. And I'm just going to read another quick excerpt here about what this looked like and what the expectations were from the perspective of people in Dimock who are really an important part of the narrative in both my book and Seamus' book.
"From the laundry line in her side yard, Pat Farnelli had a sweeping view of the scene that would determine her future. Men and equipment had moved from the hill across Burdick Creek hollow to the fallow pasture directly below her house. In late September 2008, bulldozers cut through a field ablaze with goldenrod to a level pad for Gesford 3. The well would draw gas from under the adjoining Farnelli land, and the family's mortgage depended on corresponding royalties. The derrick went up in early October, and soon the platform straddling the hole was busy with men in overalls and hard hats who were lifting, swinging, and lowering pipes with hydraulics and heavy hardware hanging from chains.
Shouts of men over machinery and generators carried up the valley, sometimes with the smell of heavy machinery and diesel exhaust. As work progressed, it was easy for Pat to believe destiny was working in her favor. At schools, churches, and the Lockhart Lunch Counter and gas mart, the news of the landmen and the promises-- and their promises was giving away to the excitement of wells producing millions of cubic feet per day from the Teel and Ely properties. There was also news of corresponding royalties. Crews were now busy building compressor stations and pipelines on the Teel land at fair compensation, she heard, and drilling two other wells along Carter Road.
This is what Cabot's $600 million in shale gas development looked like. The size and intensity of the operation, its manic focus and energy, were all directed at producing wealth. And Pat took comfort in knowing that her 20 acres were locked into the equation. Even a drop of that well, $3,000 or $4,000 per month, would make things good for them. They could pay their mortgage, buy horses and other animals, and make a go at farming. Her oldest daughter was getting married that spring, and they would have enough for a nice wedding. Pat would no longer have to worry about making ends meet for six dependent children with social security, food stamps, and the lousy hours and low pay Martin was getting at the Flying J." Martin is her husband. The Flying J is a nearby diner where he worked.
"The shots from men over the drone of diesel motors and generators on October 8, 2008, a bright Wednesday morning, didn't sound peculiar to Pat. The crew had drilled to 2,000 feet, still several thousand feet above the Marcellus pay zone, when they encountered a problem that brought the multimillion dollar operation to an inglorious stop. Debris from upper layers had fallen into the hole and jammed the drill. The Devonian bedrock under Gesford 3 is covered by 400 feet of glacial till, unconsolidated stone and gravel known in the industry as overburden. Drilling through the till is like trying to bore through a gravel pile, and although there are techniques to deal with it, they are not foolproof.
A drill that jammed somewhere in the overburden might have been less of a problem, but the Gesford crews were already worked-- had already worked through the till, and were well into the gas-bearing zone of bedrock above the Marcellus. Gas had begun flowing, and the cruise left with an open, uncased hole had no way to control it.
The problem persisted throughout the fall. To Pat, it look pretty much the same from day to day, with around-the-clock procession of equipment and men. The yelling at the site might have been laced with a little more profanity than usual, she reflected in hindsight. But really, there was no way for her to know the problem would soon amount to more than a lost piece of hardware.
DEP inspectors-- of course, DEP is the Department of Environmental Protection, which is Pennsylvania's counterpart to our DEC-- DEP inspectors were also ignorant of complications at Gesford 3, until an event on New Year's Day 2009 put them on notice. A blast echoed through the hills. A mile north of the Gesford well, concrete dust billowed from the ground and hung in the frigid air over the ruins of Norma Fiorentino's water well.
Norma was having supper at her daughter Brenda's home with her daughter, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She was feeling optimistic that this year would be better than the last. Brenda's chemo treatments were keeping her cancer in check, and her granddaughter was expecting a second child. With luck, she could buy some nice baby things with royalty payments.
Now upon her return home, she stood trying to fathom the gaping hole and the shattered remains of a massive concrete slab once covering her water well. A random act of violence? Who would want to blow up her well? She called 911. As the Springfield volunteer fire department cordoned off Norma's road with bright yellow caution tape, Cabot representatives arrive on the scene. They took some tests around her house and determined that any gas, if it was there, was not lingering."
So this is due to methane migration, and it is one of many things that can happen with shale gas development. Methane migration is not necessarily related to fracking. Often it's really drilling. The conversation is largely-- fracking has become synonymous with shale gas development. But really, to make an important distinction, it's not really all about fracking. Fracking is just the technology that allows shale gas development to proliferate. And it happened over such large regions, without the fracking, the high volume fracking and the horizontal drilling, we wouldn't be even having this discussion because the resources would be much more limited geographically.
So it's really about shale gas development. Fracking, waste disposal, methane migration related to drilling. And methane migration really is an important consequence. And it has to do with well casing integrity and other things essentially is when methane moves through the ground. And I'm not going to go too far into that right now, because we're going to be short on time, but it's a very important part of the discussion.
And in Pennsylvania, I think it's worth noting that methane migration really had been proven to be a problem for some time, and nobody really paid much attention to it.
"In 2004, DEP records document--" oh, I'm sorry. Let me just back up a little bit. "Norma's well became famous, but it was neither the first nor the worst case of methane migration related to gas drilling in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Much of what officials knew about the dangers of methane migration they learned years before from more costly incidences. The Pennsylvania DEP Bureau of Oil and Gas Migration Management had files on more than 50 other cases dating from the beginning of 2004 to the time Norma's well exploded, all involving dangerous and sometimes fatal accumulations of gas migrating from new or abandoned wells into enclosed spaces. They had happened before the shale gas rush became big news and had gained relatively little attention.
In 2004, DEP records documented the collection of gas in the basement of the Harper residence near several wells being drilled by Snyder Brothers in Jefferson County, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. On March 5, the furnace kicked on, and an explosion leveled the house and killed Charles Harper, his wife Dorothy, and their grandson Baelee. A report by the Pittsburgh Geological Society includes a photograph of the scene, a foundation covered by charred rubble and the shells of a burnt-out automobile in the driveway. Although it rarely makes headlines, damage to threats caused by gas migration is common-- is a common problem in western Pennsylvania, states the document.
In July 2008, an explosion killed a resident of Marion Township who tried to light a candle in the bathroom. The DEP record of the event, one paragraph long, states that the agency," quote, "'became aware of the problem after the fatality, which it linked to gas migrating into the septic system from an old gas well with deteriorated casing.' The DEP files also contained some cases noteworthy for what was unknown or at least undocumented."
And this is right from one of the files. Quote, "'unknown name, Armstrong County, southwest regional office, 1999, house explosion resulting in destruction of residence and one fatality. Investigation is not well documented. Origin, mechanism of migration is an operating gas well, pressurization of casing. Status resolved.'"
So I think this is so important because it cuts to this whole part of the discussion about disclosure, and what's known and what's unknown. And the industry often will talk about the process being safe, and that there's no really record of problems. And a lot of times, there's no record of problems because there's no disclosure and no documentation.
Now I'm going to go a little bit to the here and now and into the future. But this whole issue of transparency and what we don't know about shale gas development is really making this the policy story of the decade. And as Jeff was mentioning before, the interests of the Atkinson Center, energy, environment, and economics, it all comes together in this story.
And we know-- there's relatively little known about the science. And we hear the politicians say, we need to know about the science, we need to let the science decide. And one reason there's so much hedging on this right now is because people really don't have a full understanding of what this is and what's involved compared to other industries in manufacturing. And that goes back to this transparency.
Now will this lead to the golden age or the dark age in the future? We do know that there's vast energy sources that are now available to us that are making this country energy independent. We are now talking about becoming an exporter of carbon energy. The price of gas is low. We have it in abundance.
Now what are the risks and what are the rewards? And there are risks and there are rewards, and this is really no surprise. And I don't have a formal position on this. I really have done a lot of soul searching. There's a lot of good points to be made about, OK. If we don't have our energy here from close by, we get it from other countries where there's exploitation and corruption and other things, where landowners don't have rights. There's also a notion, I think, that we enjoy the benefits of cheap, abundant energy that the mineral extraction industry gives us all, that has given us all for a long time, as long as we don't have to look too closely from where it comes. So this whole shale gas discussion has really made-- is forcing us to take a good, hard look at this and examine the policy and the dynamics and the long-term consequences.
Now I'll just make a few comparisons with the gas industry and other industries. And the first are these exemptions. And with most industries, if you're putting something into the ground, an IBM or a Kodak or a manufacturing plant, they have to go by very strict rules. And the gas industry doesn't have to. It's exempt from the Clean Drinking Water Act, which essentially regulates what you put into the ground. If you don't have to disclose it, then it doesn't have to come under federal regulations.
It is also exempt from what comes out of the ground, because what comes out of the ground is a mixture of the unknowns of what go into the ground, plus all these naturally occurring hazards, which aren't hazards when they're 5,000 feet below in a bedrock zone. But they become hazards if they get intermixed with the water zones through various reasons. So that's important.
There's something else. Most industries operate in zoned areas on private property. They either lease from an industrial development agency or that they own themselves. The shale gas industry or the natural gas industry works on other people's property. So when you're talking about risks and rewards, the industry likes to say, well, there's risks. There's risks to everything. There's risks to driving a car. There's risks to getting on an airplane. There's risk to any industry. But with these other risks, they're known. And if you get into a car, you're taking that risk, and you know what that risk is. If you get on a plane, you're pretty reasonably certain you know what the risk is. But there are so many unknowns with the shale gas.
I think one of the-- and I am going to go into some generalizations here, but I think just to save time. From my view, one of the most important parts of this whole policy discussion is what happens on a cumulative basis over time. And the industry likes to point to particular points in space and time and show how the process is controlled one way or the other, or something is known about this well. But they don't look at the broad view over decades when you don't have any regional planning. For the disposal of wastewater, for example, the industry will say, well, we will recycle it. There's no real statutory definition of what recycling is. It can mean a lot of various things that goes into injection wells. It's what the industry wants it to be. So I think that's critical.
Now I'm not a scientist, and Seamus and I had a wonderful discussion at lunch time with social scientists and natural scientists, and a lot of people that know an awful lot about the scientific aspects of hydraulic fracturing and shale gas development. But as a journalist, one thing I'm very interested in is this point where what policy is. And I like to say policy is where science meets politics. And it's a very interesting intersection, and I'm especially interested in it because it's a place where you have a difference where local people, ordinary people can influence extraordinary events. And that's exactly what we're seeing happen with this whole shale gas development. We're seeing at a town meeting level, and I think we'll continue to see it at a local level in this grassroots.
Now since 2008 and those early discussions with the farmers and townfolks at the town Shenango and others, the institutional environmentalists have gotten on board with this. Josh Fox, his movie was really a game changer in terms of raising awareness of this and galvanizing the anti-fracking movement. But I think it's so important now that this discussion is coming down to a town board level still. In the absence of federal regulations with questions about state regulations and how effective they are, home rule really is going to be a huge influence in terms of the future of shale gas development.
I haven't been keeping up with my slides. I'll go through them quickly. This, by the way, is the photograph from the DEC that they showed at their presentation saying, there is no problem with this. This is what shale gas looks like. This is Norma Fiorentino's well. These are just records that show the methane migrations in Pennsylvania that have been relatively unnoticed and underreported.
Both books, End of Country and Under the Surface are told through narrative lines, a lot of different stakeholders and their various perspectives. These are the folks in Dimock, what I'd say the ordinary citizens that can influence extraordinary events. Victoria Switzer, who is featured in both books, she's a retired school teacher, called them accidental activists. A lot of the folks had never had their names in the paper outside of a birth or marriage announcement, and they had become celebrities in a big way. They became a focal point for media, international media.
So you have Ron and Jeannie Carter, who are second generation farmers. You have Norma Fiorentino, who is a widow. Her husband was a plumber. And you have people on the other side, pro-gas development. Dewey Decker is the town of Sanford supervisor and the farmer who organized the [? Tabaza ?] Coalition that landed the big deal with XTO Energy. Don Lockhart owns the Lockhart lunch counter, which is down in Dimock. It's a place where everybody gets together and swaps stories and information, a basic information exchange. And it ended up being a place where mostly the landowners that were in favor of drilling went. And there was quite a division in Dimock, as most people know. It's recounted in both books as well as a lot of popular media accounts about how the division pretty much tore the community apart.
OK, future. And I'll wrap it up here. I'll try to-- I have to hit on this quickly. The EPA investigation in Dimock. OK. This is partly ordinary people influencing extraordinary events. And because of the amount of advocacy that people like Victoria Switzer and Norma Fiorentino and the Carters and Ken Ely and others did, they drew a lot of media attention. And this is not an easy thing. If you think being a celebrity is fun, I guess try being in their-- a lot of these people moved to Dimock to get out of the limelight and just lead their lives in a quiet community. And being on the constant front of the media exposure and everything-- but they did it. Caught the EPA's attention.
The EPA is doing a national study now, looking at the impact of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater. And that's due out-- a preliminary report is due out-- was given at the end of last year, and the final report's due out next year. And whether this state or whether the federal government will have the incentive or the justification for regulating this has a lot to do with the outcome of this report. And they looked at Dimock and other places. They found that the Dimock-- there's a lot we can talk about the Dimock water.
And in the interest of saving some time, I'll just say that there continues to be a problem with that Dimock water, not just with methane, but with heavy metals, with arsenic, with other things. The trouble is the burden of proof is very high. The burden of proof is on landowners to prove that the industry did it. And a lot of these things are naturally occurring, and the industry likes to say, well, they're on the ground anyways, so they got in your water. It doesn't mean that we did it.
OK. To the home rule debate. I think this is going to be hugely influential in terms of perhaps putting-- keeping the brakes on natural gas development in New York State at least, and perhaps putting the brakes on in Pennsylvania. Because the natural gas or the shale gas industry needs large, contiguous tracts of land to effectively-- to develop the resource. And if you have multiple municipalities that can opt out for various reasons, it tends to break up their pattern and their build-out of infrastructure. It makes it much more difficult for them if all of the sudden, they can't drill or build pipelines or do other things in certain areas.
So again, this is the grassroots thing. And we have two pending decisions. We have the New York State Cooperstown Holstein versus Middlefield and Dryden versus Anschutz. They were both heard together. In both cases, the town said, we are banning fracking in our town. And the industry said, you can't do that because you don't have jurisdiction. The state regulates it. Local municipalities have no jurisdiction. And they said, well, we do. They won in the lower courts. It's being appealed. And the oral arguments were just heard in New York recently. And we'll have to see what happens with that appeal. Regardless, the outcome will be heard again probably in another appellate in the high court, in the Court of Appeals. And that will be years probably before that's resolved, or at least another year.
In Pennsylvania, you have something very similar going on with municipalities charging the legality of Act 13. And Act 13 is where the state legislature tried to ensure that local municipalities did not have jurisdiction over shale gas development.
OK. There's a lot more to be said. I'm going to wind it up now and just say that we have the state legislation in New York State. This is a very politically volatile issue. Whether we will have legislation that continues this ban for some time remains to be seen. We'll have to wait to see if the bill gets to the floor before the end of this legislative session.
But I think it's safe to say that-- at least my prediction is-- you're not going to see much movement on this in New York State any time soon for a lot of different reasons. The price of natural gas is low. We haven't talked much about the markets, but that really drives the political pressure to develop. And when the price is low, there's not as much political pressure to develop, because the resource isn't worth as much. You have this situation playing out in the courts, and you have it playing out in the governor's office.
Again, I will just close by saying that we've all enjoyed the comforts and freedoms of having abundant energy in this country. And really, this is making us look very closely at where it comes from. And there's a lot of global dynamics involved that I did not really discuss now. And when we're talking about whether this is a golden age or a dark age, you do have to factor in third world countries. You have to factor in China. You have to factor in places with energy poverty, places where people don't have the same freedoms and comforts that we have, and they are now burning coal. And there's another discussion about whether in fact shale gas is better or worse than coal in terms of long-term environmental degradation. But one thing this has done is it's woken up people throughout the Northeast, and it's forced us to take a good, hard look at energy. So thank you.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you much, Tom. And now Seamus.
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Hey, folks. Can I ask a question? How many of you have heard me speak before? Good. I don't have come up with that much new stuff.
OK. I always start these talks by saying something that is too clever by half. I always begin by saying, you know, the USDA recommends that everybody in this room get 15 milligrams of iron every single day. And I am willing to bet that about half of you have not gotten your 15 milligrams of iron. But you know what? I live almost entirely on coffee and cigarettes, so I'm not going to throw stones. And then after I say that,
--I throw stones. You know what that is? Anybody?
AUDIENCE: A bag. [INAUDIBLE].
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Bag of coal. You know how much coal? It's 18 pounds of coal. You know why it's 18 pounds of coal? Because that's how much I'm going to burn today. Me. Person. And you, and you, and everybody in this room is going to burn 18 pounds of coal today. In order to get that 18 pounds of coal, we have to remove 16 times that much earth. 16 times. Think about that, folks. A grave-sized hole for every man, woman, and child in America every single day to produce a fuel that killed my great grandfather in 1901 and has been linked some studies to the deaths of 34,000 people worldwide last year.
Now if we were having this discussion just a couple years ago, that 18 pounds of coal would have been 19.64 pounds of coal. We've reduced our coal consumption. We've reduced, surprisingly, our total carbon output in this country by an amount about equal to the carbon output of a country, say, England, where the Industrial Revolution began. How have we done it?
Well, one of the ways we've done it is through efficiency. We have made some pretty remarkable strides over the last couple of years in terms of efficiency. Not enough, but some pretty remarkable strides. Another way we've done it is we have deployed a staggering amount of renewables in this country. Pennsylvania alone, we have 750 megawatt of wind, counting for about 1% of the electricity we consume in Pennsylvania. Breathtaking [INAUDIBLE].
The other way is the good, old-fashioned way. The good old-fashioned way is to run the economy off the cliff, OK? I remember during the presidential campaign last year, Newt Gingrich said that he could reduce the price of gas to about $2 a gallon, and I thought to myself, yep. They've done it before.
But if you listen to the IEA and the EIA-- EIEIO-- they'll both tell you that the single largest reason to produce that is because little by little, we've been switching over our coal-burning power plants to natural gas. We can debate [? that ?]. There are people who make very powerful arguments that natural gas is not cradle-to-grave, cleaner than coal, may actually be dirtier than coal. But if we're going to have that debate, we better have it fast. Because the same EIA report that turned around and [INAUDIBLE] natural gas as the killer of coal also says, a few paragraphs down, that whatever advances have been there will be gone within the next year.
And that's the point. The point is that everything that has happened in this development, this pursuit of natural gas, whatever benefits might possibly be achieved from it, whatever risks there are, all of it has been driven only by the unseen hand of the market. And what the unseen giveth, the unseen hand taketh away, and it flips you the bird on the way out the door.
We have not had an energy policy to speak of in this country since the end of World War II. There is, in my mind, no issue in the United States today that more clearly demonstrates the deep divisions, the tremendous potential, and the incredible obstacles that we face than this. To me, this issue is more than just an issue that's playing out here in New York State, more than an issue that's playing out in Pennsylvania, more than an issue that's playing out in Wyoming, in Texas, in China. It's an issue that's playing out in us. In us.
I often make the point that I think one of the most troubling things to me is that I can walk into a group of people like this, anywhere, and I can turn around and I can say, tell me how you feel about fracking. And based on what you tell me, I can, with an alarming degree of accuracy, with an alarming degree of accuracy, predict where you stand on a half a dozen other hot button issues. And that to me is goddamn tragic.
When I do these talks, I make a point. For those of you who don't know, I did a talk with Terry, actually out in Indiana a couple of months ago. And I got an angry, angry note from somebody who was in the audience, turning around and saying, you know, you should disclose that you're a landowner, and that you have wells on your probably. And I said, I did disclose it. It's 345 pages of disclosure published by Random House. If you don't know who I am, why are you here?
But I often say, when I'm having these talks, that-- well, let me throw it out in the form of a question. Somebody tell me, in 20 words or less, what fracking is. What is it? Yeah?
AUDIENCE: I think Tom pointed out that fracking actually stands for, in most people's minds, high volume, horizontal slick water, hydraulic fracture.
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Which does what?
AUDIENCE: It cracks rock. And it-- but I would say that it is used colloquially to mean the entire process of exploration and [INAUDIBLE].
SEAMUS MCGRAW: I agree. I agree. Yeah. I will tell you that a lot of guys in the industry I have talked to had said they wished they had called it anything else.
High volume rock tickling. Anything but that. Something that didn't sound so damn Anglo-Saxon, you know?
You say to crack the rock, to fracture the rock. And that's the point I wanted to get at. That's not exactly what it does. What it does is exacerbate existing fractures in the rock.
AUDIENCE: I don't believe you're correct. We have experts here--
SEAMUS MCGRAW: The rock has to be-- is has to be able to be fractured. But in order to be fractured, there have to be beginning fractures. What it does is it exploits existing fractures. And I would argue that what's happening a mile and a half below the surface on my land and on my neighbor's land is to some degree what's happening on the surface.
There are-- Tom talked about Norma. Norma-- lovely woman-- was disliked by a lot of people in that community. Mistrustful. They kind of looked down on her. And when her well blew up, the first reaction of some people in that community was to accuse her sons [INAUDIBLE].
That was the first reaction. I will confess that some in my own family [? had that ?]. The pressures that go along with this exacerbate existing fractures in a community that is already wounded in many ways, and has been wounded in a lot of ways.
Tom talked about Victoria. Victoria is one of my personal heroes, and somebody I consider a friend. In fact, when I read from my book-- and I'm going to do a little bit of that-- when I read from my book, my book is signed by two people. One of them is Victoria, and the other is Terry, the guy who first put the numbers on the Marcellus.
Very often, Terry and Victoria find themselves on opposite sides of issues that involve this. But I've spent a lot of time with both of them. And I find that there is probably, probably more common ground than either one of them often realize.
The most important character in my book, not any of the drillers. It's not [? Carrie ?]. It's not Victoria, it's not Ken Ely. It's the land itself. That's the single-most important character in my book. Because it comes down to an understanding of what if the land is and what our responsibility to it is.
And with that in mind, I'm going to introduce you folks to Victoria a little bit and to Ken, and kind of give you a sense, if I can, of what the land meant to them. Maybe you can divine the fracture in the community that both of them are standing on opposite sides of at this point in the book.
Now as Tom told you, Victoria had transplanted herself to the community. She had, along with her husband, Jim, had found a beautiful, beautiful tract of land, seven acres carved off of what had once been a larger farm that had gone belly up. And they were building their dream house. Jim was building it by hand.
"Like most newcomers to the country, Jim and Victoria had been enthralled by the ambient song of solitude, the gentle babbling of the tiny brook at the edge of their property, the insistent hum of 100,000 insects, the call and response of hawks and sparrows, the wind rustling through the ancient hemlocks, the call of an owl far off in the woods. It reminded Victoria of the night she had spent at her grandmother's place, lying on the grass with their siblings, watching the stars twinkling above her and listening to the sounds of the living, dark forest.
But there were other sounds in the country too, the harsh mechanical sounds of people trying to get by in a place where you have to fight the land itself for everything you have. It's the angry howl of a chainsaw chewing through downed trees so somebody could stock up on enough firewood to keep the house warm for the winter, or the bitter protest of a lumber truck or a rock truck or a milk truck, engine braking so that it can safely make it down some precipitous side road one hill over. Or the guttural growl of a tractor with a 30-year-old muffler hauling a spreader full of oozing manure down the road. That's the moment when newcomers learn for the first time what cow shit really smells like.
And then one morning over coffee, they heard it, a sound that set their teeth on edge, rolling straight down the hill toward them from Ken Ely's place. It was a nightmare in the cool light of morning. It was every obnoxious industrial sound the region could offer, and then some. The shriek of the chainsaw, the coughing and sputtering of an engine and a backhoe well past its prime. Worse still, there was the bizarre, animalistic shriek of steel on cold stone. It reached across the trailer and through Jim and Victoria's skulls.
Worst of all, there was the blast. Fortunately, it wasn't an everyday occurrence, and it wasn't as if they could do anything about it anyway. The law said Ken had the right to blow up his rocks, and Ken was going to blow up his rocks, though the law also required that someone else do the actual blasting, a condition to which Ken reluctantly submitted.
For Jim and Victoria and their German shepherd, that meant there was nothing to be done but listen for the periodic sounding of the air horn, warning that the blasting was about to begin, grab the nearest solid surface, and hang on. Her neighbors had advised her against challenging Ken directly. He wasn't the type to take the admonishments of strangers kindly. And she tried to take their advice. Really, she had. The problem was, she was constitutionally incapable of stopping herself, she admitted.
Maybe it was her father's legacy. As a kid back in [? Falls ?], a little town along the Susquehanna River right between the rugged hollows of the endless mountains and the burned out coal fields of the Wyoming Valley, she had watched her old man with unabashed admiration as he took on the big boys, the local county and state government and big business to block the construction of a power plant that he was convinced would further poison the already wounded river. He's a tough little guy, she used to say, and she'd always been proud of him for winning that fight.
And when she became a history teacher, she had chosen to teach a few miles south of [INAUDIBLE], partly so she could be close to the mountains she had come to love. She always tried to infuse her lessons with a little bit of the individual versus the corporate state complex message she had learned from her father. She had to admit that it had sometimes proven a little difficult to squeeze a morality tale about the zoologist Dian Fossey's brutal murder into her regular lesson plan. And she did raise a few eyebrows around the administration office when she got one of her classes to adopt-- virtually, of course-- a mountain gorilla in Fossey's honor.
Now the teacher in her couldn't resist the temptation to take Ken Ely to school. It didn't happen right away. Whenever she got a chance, she'd grab her dog and head off on a hike along the top of the ridge, and she'd peer over the chest-high stone wall that marked the boundary of Ken Ely's land, hoping to catch sight of him. But Ken Ely was an elusive and wily man.
In the first few months she had lived there, she had seen him only once, and then from a distance when he came roaring through the woods on a rattletrap ATV decked out in camouflage. And she later put it, she could have sworn she heard banjo music. For the longest time after that, she'd half tried to catch him, stalking up to the rock wall whenever she suspected he might be at work there. But each time when she got there, he'd vanished.
It was unnerving, she told me. In fact, she said, she often had the feeling, as she and her dog walked along her side of the stone wall, that someone or something, maybe a deer, maybe a bear, maybe even one of those long-gone catamounts that still turn up from time to time in the imagination of the locals, was watching her. As it turned out, she was right. One day, she caught sight of something moving through the woods, and then it emerged, hesitantly at first. A clownish, Bluetick Coonhound with friendly, questioning eyes, grinning goofily and wagging its tail tentatively as it approached her, cocking its head, pleading to be petted. She had made contact with Ken Ely's dog. It was only a matter of time before she'd faced the man himself.
And then one afternoon, a short time later while Victoria and her dog were hiking along near the top of the ridge, there they were, Ken and his dog, not far from the stone hedge that marked the end of her land. This might be your only chance to make him understand. You know, you're killing the land! she blurted out as the Coonhound slowly skulked away. Ken remained silent. He just stood there, glaring at her with what she would later come to learn was the patented Ken Ely scowl that most of his neighbors and all of his grandchildren had long since learned to ignore.
She screwed up her courage and kept on talking. His rock quarrying was more than just an aggravation to his neighbors, she explained, though it was destroying the pastoral silence she had been fantasizing about as a child. It was an assault on the pristine beauty of the place. The way she saw it, his quarry was a cancer on the land, though even she grimaced when she used that phrase, thinking maybe it was just a bit over the top.
Still, the schoolteacher in her couldn't pass up the opportunity to educate the quarryman. And if he took it badly, well, that was unfortunate, but he'd just have to get over it. Ken Ely, of course, saw things differently.
The way he told it, it wasn't Victoria's bluntness that irked him in that first encounter as much as her attitude. She seemed typical of a breed of newcomer, people who act like they know the place because they can name the little villages that dot the highway, places so small you'd need a magnifying glass to find them on a map. But they always seem to be looking down their noses at people like him.
But as hard as he tried to ignore his new neighbor, there was something about her that had gotten under his skin. It wasn't just that she hadn't grown up in these hills and didn't understand what he and the others who lived there did, that what a man does on his own land is his own business. It was that she did live here now, and somehow, that made her think that she had a vote on what he did with his land, or at least the right to state her opinion. And that was what Ken couldn't abide.
As he put it to me, 'she didn't seem to understand that this isn't some vacation spot, some pristine corner of the wild that could be pressed into the pages of a book like an old corsage.' The land was all Ken and most of his neighbors had. And in the past, people like Ken had taken from it whatever their abilities and the particular limitations of their own land would allow. Corn, milk, timber, stones. And if that wasn't enough, and it usually wasn't, they'd take a little more.
But for most, the days when you could make a living farming the land were over. The farms were largely gone. And that meant that you could either carve up the cadaver of the land and sell off small chunks to folks like Victoria, or you could carve out what you needed and measure it out in tons. Ken had chosen the latter.
Still, he never took more than the land was willing, however grudgingly, to give. And the land was more resilient than people like Victoria realized. You could tear it up with plows, you could bury it under mountains of fertilizer, you could hack down its trees and blast out its rocks with dynamite, you could ship the shards of rock down to the valley where rich people would use them to put facades on their McMansions or build little stone walls to evoke that fake country charm so prized these days. But the minute you stopped plowing or digging or blasting, the land would start to come back. Sure, you could kill it if you were greedy or careless enough. You could dig too deep, take too many trees, poison the land or the water with fertilizer. But if you did that, you knew you'd have nothing left at all.
The way Ken saw it, the land he owned didn't owe him a fortune. It owed him a living, and not necessarily an easy one. In return for every dollar's worth of stone the land yielded, it was due a gallon of sweat, plus a few pounds of aching muscle, and a few feet of creaking bone. But if, in Ken's calculus, the land owed him next to nothing, he owed everything to the land. He owed it his hard work, his constant attention, and most of all, his respect.
And it was on that question of respect that he and Victoria diverged, to him. People who only visit the country from time to time or who never visit it at all and only occasionally imagine it as a world wholly separate from their own, respect for the land often means leaving it untouched. To such people, it all boils down to one word, preservation. It's an admirable idea, one that has been embraced by some of the great heroes of American history, and has led to the creation of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks, among other treasures.
But to people like Ken, respect for the land means something else entirely. It means understanding in a visceral way that the land can be an ally, it can be an adversary, and sometimes, it is both at the same time. But always its fate and yours are linked. And so you push the land as hard as you can. And when you think it's just about ready to start pushing back, you let it rest. You move to the next quarry, the next stand of hardwoods, the next pasture. And if need be, you nurture it back to health. You seed, your plant, and what you harvest is up to you. Do that, and the land will always come back. That was Ken's guiding principle.
There's a word for that too. Conservation. It's stunning how often the words preservation and conservation are used interchangeably in casual conversation. It's especially striking when you realize how different their meanings actually are. Ken and his jury rigged [? barco ?] were different. Even if he didn't care about the land-- and he did passionately, though he was never one to show his passions publicly-- Ken's little operation could never do that kind of damage.
I understood that. We both knew the land as a resource and a refuge, a place that as the old saying goes, had been rode hard and put away wet. Couldn't help but remember the old Groucho Marx line about Doris Day. I knew her before she was a virgin. That was Ken's relationship to the rocky ground, and it was, in many respects, mine too.
While Ken had wisely held his tongue during his first encounter with Victoria, he wasn't entirely silent. The way he wryly remembered it, it wasn't long afterward that he got his chance to offer a rebuttal, and it consisted of simply standing his ground. He had finished prying and scraping and dragging out every loose rock he could find in that part of the quarry, and now it was time to bring in the big guns, enough dynamite placed just deep enough into the fractures in the rock to blast free a new load. And he called in some local guys to do the job.
Ken watched as the contractors pulled back a safe distance, and then listened for the air horn to sound. An instant later, the ground shook and a massive bone-rattling roar rolled up out of the ground and down toward the rusted old trailer at the bottom of the hill like an invisible wave. The bark of a purebred German shepherd told him that he'd let Victoria know that he wasn't going to change his ways just because she told him to."
As different as these two people seem to be, as different as they were, as different in many ways as their ultimate attitude about whether this was a good idea in the long run, these people, Victoria and Ken, ultimately managed to find a way to work together for a common purpose. And that common purpose was an attempt to try to hold to account a company that as Tom has laid out already, committed some positively egregious acts in the course of this.
I'm not going to bore you guys anymore by talking. I think it's time that what we need to do is start having a conversation.
WENDY WOLFORD: We're supposed to end at 6:30, but we can stay in the room for a little bit longer to give us a little bit more time for questions. Both Tom and Seamus said that they would go short today, and I think their talks speak to the passion and excitement that they bring to their topic. I want to say thank you both very much for your presentations and for the books. The books, as you can see, are on sale here, and the authors will be available after our conversation today. I'm sure that we'll have an energetic and hopefully productive conversation.
I want to say, as many of you here know, that this is one of many discussions that we've had about fracking or about natural gas on campus, several of which have been hosted by the ACSF, or by the Atkinson Center. So last year in May, we had John Deutch here. John Deutch is emeritus at MIT, and he was the chair of President Obama's Shale Gas Production Subcommittee. This past September, we hosted Andy Revkin. He was formerly of The New York Times, and now hosts the blog Dot Earth, Dot Earth blog. And we've also funded research on natural gas extraction from methane emissions to community perspectives to water quality, and we've supported important research, I think, on alternative energy sources from wind to algal biofuels.
Today's presentations, as you heard, are by two people who've done probably more than anyone else to highlight and document the perspectives of people living on the land in rural Pennsylvania and New York. This perspective, I think, located in particular places and concerned with the experiences of particular people, or real local people, highlights the difficulty of easy answers in the discussion over natural gas, rural life, or the future of rural life in America, and global energy.
I'm looking forward to how we can have a conversation about that here today. And what I want to do to start off with is just to get a show of hands to see who already knows that they have a question. OK. OK, great. What we're going to do, I'm going to start off with just one quick question that will hopefully be short, and then we'll take two or three questions at a time, and then take it back to the authors to respond, and then go back to the audience.
We're really going to ask, because of the time and because of the nature of the topic, that people keep their questions to two minutes. I'll be keeping time. And there's a bag of rocks here for if you go over.
I will be keeping time, and at two minutes, I'll just stand and we'll start passing the mic around. So thank you very much. To start, I guess I want to pick up on that question or that comment about the role of the local and the importance that you both highlight in terms of the local experiences. And in some ways, this conversation gets read as a debate between the local and the national. There seem to be different interests around energy production at the local level and at the national level.
At the national level we're thinking about energy security or energy independence, and at the local level, we're dealing with contaminated wells or contaminated water supplies. But what you two show is how much more complicated the local is than that, that there are people who internalize or embody the contradictions of-- and Tom, you put this in your book where you say "the middle ground is filled with consumers who are used to cheap, plentiful energy, and property owners who are worried about their land but also able to imagine a better future for themselves and their children if mineral rights leases pay out well." And so I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit more to the tensions between, perhaps, the local and the national or global, and also about the role that is there for science and journalism, given how complicated the local is. In talking about the local, what role is there for science and journalism to mediate or present the experiences of that local?
And then a third element of that local-- that's right. Pick up your pens.
The third element of the local is, how do we evaluate different locals? Not only do you have Ken and Victoria who have different perspectives, but how do we weigh the importance of local, rural New York and Pennsylvania versus the local in Ogoniland in Nigeria where they've been suffering under gas leaks and shale oil production for 20, 30 years? How do we think about those locals?
You know what, Seamus? Why don't I take a couple more from the audience, and then we'll turn back to the two of you. So if we can have hands, and Lauren will take the first question up here on the left.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Seamus. You mentioned--
WENDY WOLFORD: If you could just introduce yourself very quickly, that would be great.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. I'm a graduate of Cornell. I used to teach at Cornell. I was a researcher at Cornell in environmental stuff. And I'm in the town of Dryden and involved in the court cases that were mentioned today. Seamus, you mentioned your-- I forget the word. Something like it's a catastrophe that you can predict with such amazing accuracy--
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Tragedy. I think it's a tragedy.
AUDIENCE: --a tragedy that you can predict people's views on a variety of things based on their views on this one issue. And I just want to suggest that perhaps it has a lot to do with the very lopsided power of the two different sides of this issue, which is the same lopsided power that we see in so many other issues in our society today. And I'm talking mostly about corporate power, unregulated virtually, seemingly, compared to the power of most of us on Main Street. Thank you.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you. And then we'll take a question from this side.
DAVID BROWN: Hello, my name's David Brown. Sorry. I'm a filmmaker, a photographer, and I have been doing a lot of work down in Pennsylvania lately. And I'm just curious, when people talk about this as a clean versus a dirty technology, are they factoring in the amount of fossil fuel that's being used to extract the stuff? Because there's gigantic machinery going all the time, and I'm just wondering if anyone's really looked at how much fossil fuel is going in to get that fossil fuel out?
SEAMUS MCGRAW: About $800,000 per well. About $800,000 of a $3 million well tends to be fossil fuels. And that is absolutely bone-headed. In the book I talk about that a little bit. I talk about the issue of-- I take a [INAUDIBLE] range resources. A buddy took me out to a pad out there, and was telling me about all the wonderful things that natural gas could conceivably do.
And we start to drive back to his office. His office is three miles from the [INAUDIBLE]. We hop in his big Ford [? Exploder, ?] we start rolling back. We get about three-- well, not even a mile from the pad. Guy starts white-knuckling the steering wheel, looking down at the gas gauge, going, I don't think we've got enough gas to get back. The irony is completely lost on this son of a bitch.
I mean, I love the guy, but the irony's completely lost. Sitting on top of the third-largest natural gas field in the world, or so it was judged at the time, and not having enough gas. The reality is a lot of the problems that we've run into, a lot of the problems that we've run into in terms of pollution, in terms of spills have been diesel-related.
A lot of the potential benefit that could be achieved from this if there were a potential benefit to be achieved could only-- you guys may not know this. Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of rail miles of any state in the union. Only Texas has more. Most of those dead end within 20 miles of an active Marcellus field. We could be using rail, moving this stuff with natural gas, reducing-- that gallon of fuel that they tell you will give you 500 miles is right now diesel. The only thing we still make in the state of goddamn locomotives. We could be switching those things, but we're not doing it. Why? Because we have no plan. Why are they not using natural gas to get natural gas, except these PR operations that you see from time to time? No plan. It's the absence of a policy. It's the absence of any clear energy policy. I agree with you 100%.
DAVID BROWN: Thank you.
WENDY WOLFORD: You know what? Why don't we take a couple more questions?
SEAMUS MCGRAW: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
WENDY WOLFORD: No, no, no. These are-- these are great questions. Lauren, do you want to-- is there one more question on this side? Up top.
AUDIENCE: Thanks so much. My name's [? Casey ?] [? Alby ?], and I'm a grad from Cornell from last year [INAUDIBLE] organizing the anti-fracking movement along 350.org. And I had a question about your experiences with how you've seen the anti-fracking movement evolve over the last five years. Particularly in terms of the discourse, how it's changed from maybe safe drilling or holding off with a moratorium to calling for a ban, and to now the switch to anti-fossil fuels in general. And if you could, I guess, reflect on that a little bit.
WENDY WOLFORD: And one more question.
ELLEN HARRISON: My name is Ellen Harrison. I'm a landowner out in Ellis Hollow. And actually, my husband and I signed a gas lease before we knew about fracking, and I've since become very concerned about it. Seamus was saying this is all about the land. But in fact, it's also about health. And there's been a tremendous concentration on water issues. That's what has gotten most of the play for various reasons. But it appears that air pollution impacts are perhaps a greater risk. And I believe that there's not a lot known, and I think Tom did a wonderful job of pointing out how it's hard to know things if things are not disclosed.
So two things. One is I'd like to ask each of you whether health impacts-- I mean, it seems to me that health impacts, we're becoming more aware of them. That when you guys wrote your books, perhaps they weren't as much on people's minds. So I'm interested in what you know about it, what you're hearing about it. And I also will shamelessly tell you that on April the 16 from 7:00 to 9:00, there's going to be an Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health presentation at the Unitarian Church downtown, trying to look at what do we know, what don't we know, [? are ?] animals [INAUDIBLE], et cetera. So thank you.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you. So a question about what we know about health.
ELLEN HARRISON: And how it's in there [INAUDIBLE].
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Why don't we turn it over to you two? And can I ask-- can we start with Tom? And then ask Seamus. And I hate to ask this, but if you two want to keep it brief, then we'll have at least one more round of questions.
TOM WILBER: OK. I'll start with Wendy's question, which is expanding a little bit on the local versus national picture, and the importance of science in journalism and policy. And what strikes me is this issue is unlike many other policy issues in the sense that locally, you have certain landowners that have huge stakes financially in the outcome, direct financial outcome. So again, it gets back to the issue of a manufacturing plant is working on its own property, while the gas industry works all over the place on other people's property, and they enter in contracts with private property owners. So this complicates the local dynamics a lot, because you have property owners versus people who don't own property. And the property owners with large tracks that have large incentives development, it adds a different type of tension.
And of course, I will just add, with the science and the importance of science in journalism, I think that's critical, especially with the people not really being able to fully understand or see, due to the lack of disclosure, what's going on. I think that's just a very important role.
I can move on to the next question. Do you want-- OK. I think corporate power versus the small person, I think, again, the burden of proof for the small person is very high. It starts out-- well, let me put it this way. If there is a problem with the well unlike, again, a manufacturing plant where you have regulators coming out and looking at what discharges are, here it's mostly between the landowner and the corporation, and the burden of proof is on the court-- typically on the landowner when something goes wrong, and the corporation is very well versed in defending itself in taking on these cases. So I think there is a mismatch. I think somewhat, this is balanced out now by the institutional advocacy you're having.
And I'll just add in-- we haven't talked about Josh Fox. I think there's a fair assessment of Josh Fox's work of being biased or propagandist. He's an activist, OK? But there's also something in the sense that it balances-- it balances it out a little bit, and he tells a story that needs to be told, that hasn't been told by the corporation, and is counterweight to the public-- to the corporation's public relations. Do you have any thoughts on either of those?
Well, are you done?
I'm not sure whether I should go through all the questions that we had, or--
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Go ahead.
WENDY WOLFORD: You can pick what you want to answer.
TOM WILBER: Oh, OK.
WENDY WOLFORD: You don't need to answer all of them. Any thoughts you have that you think [INAUDIBLE].
TOM WILBER: There's a question about the anti-fracking movement evolution and how that has changed. And I'll just reiterate that I think it really started-- the whole idea started with the town meeting. People that didn't consider themselves as activists or accidental activists either like Victoria Switzer and Norma Fiorentino, or the landowners that were organized to the Farm Bureau in New York State saying, what is this, and how the heck are we going to regulate it?
And it really has become a discussion from land use in a local area to the fossil fuel discussion. I absolutely agree with that, and that's an important-- I'm glad the conversation has gone that way because the whole idea of sustainability is critical. So it really has become much more than-- I mean, the story, it embodies everything. It involves so many different aspects of land use and sustainability and national policy and independence and economics. So I think that it has evolved a lot.
SEAMUS MCGRAW: OK. I'm going to start, Wendy, with a response-- or sort of an answer. I don't know if it's an answer. It's a response to your question. And I think it's going to lead me all the way through. The recent Intergovernmental Panel report on climate change. The recent Intergovernmental Panel report on climate change paints a pretty dire picture for most of the United States.
One of the areas that is likely to be spared, the worst of the short-term impacts-- the near-term impacts, not short-term, but the near-term impacts-- we're pretty much sitting in it. This part of the country early on is likely to dodge the most severe early impacts.
I was talking to Richard Alley, who is, to me, one of the great heroes of the climate debate. He puts it this way. The people who are most likely to be impacted by climate change are poor people in hot places. And I don't think I will get much disagreement from anybody in this room if I were to turn around and say that for way too long, we have been indulging our vices at the expense of poor people in hot places. But I will bet I'm going to tick a lot of you off when I suggest that we may, in the way this debate has been conducted, be subsidizing our virtues on the backs of those same people.
The reality is, when we talk about consumption, when we talk about waste, we're in a league of our own. And when we turn around and talk about the responsibility that places on us for being stakeholders in our own consumption, I think that raises a number of moral questions that need to be resolved, need to be debated honestly.
That leads me to-- that is ultimately an economic question. That is ultimately a question of economics. And the reality is we live in a world, like it or not, where those vertically integrated corporate structures control the means of production and the method of production.
And so what we have at our disposal, all we have at our disposal-- I say this all the time. There is a tendency, when we talk about these industries, because we tend to be so certain of the justness of our positions, when we turn around and, if you happen to be on the pro-drilling side and you talk to somebody about the industry, you tend to buy their nonsense. You know, (COUNTRY ACCENT) we're America's natural gas companies, cowboys riding on America's energy frontier. Or if you're on the other side of the issue, you tend to view them as mustache-twirling villains out of There Will Be Blood.
The reality is they're not either. The reality is they're corporations. And my apologies to Antonin Scalia. Corporations are not people. They are machines. They are machines that are designed to produce one thing. Profits for their shareholders. They have a legal responsibility to do that.
And so in order to turn around and integrate what is in our best interest, and more often than not, actually in theirs as well, we need to learn to use those machines. We need to understand the profit motive. We need to develop a progressive tax structure that penalizes them for doing the things we don't want them to do.
Look, I pay extra for smoking non-filtered cigarettes, and willingly so. You know, we need to develop a tax structure that turns around and makes this part of their bottom line. You want to get them to use rail? Tax them s they don't. You want to get them to use gas? Tax them if they don't. You start making that part of the quarterly bottom line, and some of the dunces on the boards will get it.
But that takes a level of awareness that goes beyond what we've seen in Pennsylvania. Tom mentioned Act 13. You know, I live in a state that is run by people who don't really believe in government. And if you don't believe-- they came up with all the worst aspects of a tax law and none of the benefits of a tax law. It's kind of like buying [INAUDIBLE] designed by a nun. If you don't know what it's for and you don't want to use it, you're not going to build a very good one, you know?
That is something that is achievable, but we're nowhere near there yet. What little progress we have made, we've made in part because of the evolving anti-frack movement, I think. When Tom talked about Josh as being an activist, OK, I use the word agitprop. And I don't mean that as a pejorative. Those of you who are my age think of it as a tool. It does a very important thing.
When they were drilling the well on my land, the neighbor across the road-- this is before they had ever stuck a drill bit in the ground. They were simply blasting to build the pad. The neighbor across the road, whose water well was cased only to 20 feet, began to find methane in his water well. He didn't want to report it. I talked him into it. We called Chesapeake, we called the DEP. Within about 45 minutes, they were up there. And Chesapeake, to its credit, shut down the operation for 30 days in order to figure out what the source of this contamination was.
My initial reaction to that was, oh, you know what? They've read the book. They don't want bad publicity. And then I realized, that can't be it, because nobody's read the goddamn book.
The reality is that the only reason they did that, the only reason they did that was because of the pressure that had been brought to bear by the folks in Dimock, by the now national publicity that had moved [INAUDIBLE]. You're talking about five miles as the crow flies from Ken Ely's place. That this had become a practice. It's not going to remain a practice, I don't imagine, when the intensity of focus is gone. But for now, it is.
And Ellen, you talked about health issues. See, that's the thing. We have this tremendous focus right now on this in Pennsylvania, here in New York State, in Ohio. And it's raised the issue of-- we're having the Geisinger study in Pennsylvania. Tom talked about earlier incidents of methane migration in the state of Pennsylvania. I mentioned that my neighbor across the road had not had his water well cased. Or had his water tested.
Because the truth of the matter is that when we talk about the benefits and the risks associated with this, there is one very, very important benefit that has already come from this. The truth of the matter is 15 years ago, nobody gave a good goddamn about the health of rural Americans. Nobody even looked. One of the reasons we don't have a baseline is because nobody cared. Nobody cared about methane migration. Nobody cared about-- we don't even have standards for water wells in the state of Pennsylvania. Nobody cared. Whatever else comes of this, that to me, the fact that people who are not directly involved care, is a tremendous advancement.
WENDY WOLFORD: So let's take one more round of questions. Lauren, are you-- we have a question down here at the front. And let's see. Sorry. And then a question right here, two questions in the middle, and then we'll wrap up. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Hi. [INAUDIBLE]. But I just had a question about-- there was an industry association that just got started recently by the drillers. They're trying to get out ahead of the regulations by [INAUDIBLE]. I was wondering if you guys had any comment on that, and also about just the idea-- if bigger companies that presumably who have more money to spend on the operations, if you see them doing their job, then [INAUDIBLE] operations in half, less capital spent on their equipment. If you guys are seeing any difference on the ground [INAUDIBLE] in terms of the actual [INAUDIBLE].
WENDY WOLFORD: Great question. Thanks. And the microphone is in--
AUDIENCE: This is for Tom Wilber. Your book ended with the Carter Road 15 in December 2012. Did all of those people settle with the gas companies, or are there still somebody hanging out there?
WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you. And one more question.
AUDIENCE: My name is [? Sean ?] [? Hilson ?]. I actually have two questions directed at something that Seamus was saying. So one is during your talk, you said that Ken would push the land when he felt it pushing back is when he knew he didn't want to go any further. And we're seeing some evidence of that in the climate, where we're pushing on it and we're seeing ice cap melting and more extreme weather and droughts and floods in other places. So how does that message get relayed to landowners like Ken where he is authorizing fossil fuel development on his property to say, you know, there's more than just him, but he's one of the people who ask to be able to say no. Say, don't develop this because it is pushing nature too far.
Second thing is what you just said [INAUDIBLE] in the other comments are the question of, they have a legal duty to provide a profit to the shareholders. And then obviously we have to tax them to discourage behavior we don't want. The issue there is the issue of growth, and that if you're taxing too much, they pass on the costs to the consumers. Consumers have less money to spend on discretionary items, and the economy declines. And obviously, we already have a tremendous amount of deficit spending that is promoting some of the GDP growth we're seeing, but for my generation, for students here, our GDP looks much different. I did a graph where we basically continue to contract. You encounter a deficit since the recession. So just something along those lines of, how do you resolve the profit motive with the future that I foresee for our generation?
WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you very much. So those will be our last questions. If you two could take three to five minutes each to answer those, and wrap up.
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Should I go first? Because I want to answer his question directly. I may not have been clear enough. The idea is to give them a way out of paying those taxes. What you do is-- the poor landowners, the poor farmers, the people who are still dairy farming, and the natural gas companies have one thing in common, and that's that neither of them set the price for their own commodity. They're up against a hard wall, OK?
So I turn around and I walk into a natural gas company. I say, you know what? I'm going to have to borrow a phrase from There Will Be Blood. I'm going to drink your milkshake. I'm going to turn around and take it all. But you know what? I'm going to take 88%. I'm going to take [INAUDIBLE] 88.5%. But you know what? You turn around and you start-- you tell me that you can reduce fugitive methane emissions by up to 80% in some cases, they make the claim. Fine. Put it into practice. Prove it to me. I knock you down a point. Start using natural gas to get natural gas, I knock you down a point.
The idea isn't necessarily to collect the revenue. The idea is not necessarily to have them pass the revenue along. The idea is to give them a way to turn around and keep their prices where they need to be. And that's the way-- that's the way you address that sort of thing.
AUDIENCE: Please remember to use your microphone.
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Oh, I'm sorry. And that's the overall scheme on that kind of thing. Using rail to get-- using natural gas to get natural gas. And yeah. You turn around and say, you know what? [INAUDIBLE] all, but you do these things and we get you down. Once you get down, you're down in West Virginia territory at that point.
And it's something-- this may sound all kind of starry-eyed and progressive. And I admit, I am a good, old-fashioned dyed in the wool liberal. That's why I wear the Tom Joad hat. But the reality is this isn't coming from me. I first heard this brought up by guys in the industry. You know, guys like John Pinkerton who used to head up [INAUDIBLE], saying, tax us. Regulate us. This was the point they were making on that.
Because the reality is, they have to sell this. They have to sell this to their boards. They know it's in their interest. They're expanding their markets. They're reducing their costs. But if all you're interested in is the next quarter, you're never going to turn around and get them to do that. So you need to shift the board's focus elsewhere. That's the response to that. I'll let you handle the settlement question on your own.
TOM WILBER: Sure. There's also one other question about the best practices agreement between environmentalists or an environmental group in the industry. And you're referring to the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. It was billed by the--
AUDIENCE: Closer to the mic.
TOM WILBER: --it was billed by the Associated Press and some other media outlets as a breakthrough in that the environmentalists were getting together with the industry to self-regulate. And the one particular environmental group involved with this was the Environmental Defense Fund. It wasn't as originally reported or implied an across-the-board agreement with environmental groups that they would develop these industry practices, and everything would be OK.
I think it's really important to remember a few things about this. First of all, it's all voluntary. Second of all, it involves this hazy notion of best practices, which is really an industry term, but from a regulatory standpoint means very little. So the best practices for waste handling disposal, for example, is closed loop drilling and recycling. But when it comes down to pulling that apart and understanding what it really means, it can mean whatever the industry wants it to be.
So from my view, this is-- it might be a step in the right direction where there's a good faith attempt to understand how we can manage waste from shale gas. And I'll add that I don't necessarily think that just because you have a big corporation that is incapable of making the right and good decisions-- but as Seamus points out, corporations are in it for the money. And a lot of times, the other things are ignored.
So I don't think-- I think there's a danger to this idea that we have a Center for Sustainable Shale Gas Development in the sense that people will let them off the hook and say, oh, we have something. Look. Look at that. They're showcasing it. They're working with an environmental group. It's all good. When in fact, you have absolutely no-- not absolutely no regulations, but the industry does not have the same type of regulations, national regulations that other industries have to comply with.
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Can I jump in on that for just one second?
TOM WILBER: Sure.
SEAMUS MCGRAW: Because there is one thing I'd like to add on that. You have to take the consideration of, why would the industry sign on to something like that in the first place? And I think it's because they recognize that there has been, in my state, an utter abdication in terms of responsibility on the regulatory level. I think they would much prefer to have these sorts of practices coming from the outside than to have to turn around and faint toward them themselves. I think this is just a response to an abdication of power and a government that doesn't believe in government.
TOM WILBER: I'll add the settlement question. The Carter Road 15, most of them settled, but there are some people that are fighting on, and Ken Ely's son Scott is among them. And then there's all their lawsuits that have arisen independently from that. So the issues about damages for pollution to water wells and other health issues related to the folks in Dimock legally is still very much alive.
WENDY WOLFORD: Well, with that, Tom and Seamus, thank you so much for your presentations.
And thank you for the time that you've spent with us today, and for your hard work on this topic. Like I said, there are books, and I think Seamus and Tom will stay for a little bit and talk to people, and also sign books potentially. So thank you all for coming.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University, on the web at cornell.edu.
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The future of fracking - the extraction of natural resources, often natural gas, from shale formations more than a mile below ground level, has become a hotly contested issue because of its potential environmental consequences.
Journalists Tom Wilber, author of "Under the Surface" and curator of the Shale Gas Review, and Seamus McGraw, author of "End of Country," offered their perspectives at a public forum, April 4, 2013. Wendy Wolford, Cornell's Polson Professor of Development Sociology, moderated the conversation.
The event was sponsored by the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and the Cornell University Press.