The Sky is Pink

Posted by By at 29 June, at 12 : 39 PM Print

“With the gas-bearing Marcellus Shale formation underlying 50 percent of the state (of New York), and with the gas industry proposing upwards of 100,000 gas wells (in the state), (Gov. Mario Cuomo’s decision to repeal a moratorium on fracking) could fundamentally transform New York.”

With that,producer/director Josh Fox opens an 18-minute video foray into the dangers of fracking for natural gas. Fox was nominated for an Academy Award in 2010 for “Gasland,” a documentary about the hazards of fracking, He is working on a full-length sequal, “Gasland 2.”

Fracking is the process of forcing a toxic soup of water, chemicals and sand into a well drilled more than a mile deep and up to two miles horizontally. The high pressure causes deep shale to be shattered, releasing the natural gas to push its way up the well, and into consumer-bound pipelines.

But, Fox shows, all the chemicals and gas often do not remain confined to the well casing and pipelines, and, he says, the industry knows that.

He points out internal industry memos and state environmental studies showing, for instance, six percent of the concrete well casings fail during the fracking process, and as many as half of them will fail within 30 years – sometimes long after the wells have been abandoned, and the companies that drilled them have ceased to exist.

I suggest driving down almost any road in Pennsylvania and notice what has happened to concrete bridge walls. Pressure from vehicular impact as well as acid rain and other atmospheric events has, in many cases, rotted the concrete.

Ground, which seems stable to those of us walking on it, is constantly moving. Deep beneath the surface, concrete casings are subject to twists and strains and, with fracking, to chemicals not included in the original recipe.

He notes a study by Colorado authorities that has identified leaking abandoned wells, drilled in the early 1900s, and no owners to be found.

Abandonment of industrial responsibility is not unheard of.

A few years ago, near where I live, the owner of a bridge over a railroad line could not be found. The rail line didn’t want to maintain it, nor did the land owner.

Across the country, thousands of dams are listed as orphans because their builders have long since disappeared, leaving behind no proof ownership had ever passed to abutting landowners.

Developers often build large housing projects, then depart, leaving the new residents to figure out how to acquire a dependable water source.

A zinc producing plant northwest of Pittsburgh is about to be abandoned by a company moving to North Carolina, and there is question whether the state will be left to clean up the mess, or Shell Oil will take it over before it becomes a problem – or both.

Science shows connection between tobacco and lung cancer, burning coal and acid rain, CO2 and global warming – but in each case industry’s effort is to make people who are not scientists believe there is a debate.

Rarely do we hear of debates among scientists. Generally, they are a reticent lot. Generally – not always, because occasionally there is a lone wolf – they compare notes and try as best they can to gain a consensus among themselves that something is true before they publish their findings.

The title of the movie is taken from comments made by Pittsburgh City Councilman Douglas Shields about journalists quoting one source saying the sky is blue, then, when an industry source says the sky is pink, reporting a “debate” over whether the sky is blue or pink.

The industry has spent a millions of dollars lobbying state and federal lawmakers to prevent regulations and research impeding their drilling endeavor, and millions more on advertising to convince us that, in the words of industry spokesman and former Pa. Gov. Tom Ridge, “There has not been a proven single instance where it (flammable tap water) has been related to hydraulic fracking.”

Maybe fracking could be safe, though there is plenty of evidence it is not inherently so. Or maybe our great grandchildren will discover they must pay to pipe Maine water to Pennsylvania because water beneath New York and in the Susquehanna and Monongahela rivers in the Keystone state has been made undrinkable.

Maybe we should put more effort into finding better ways of keeping our lights and televisions glowing.

“The Sky is Pink” may be viewed online at Internal industry memos to which Fox refers may be found at Rolling Stone Magazine.

Photo by John Messeder
This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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