Fracking Tensions

It seems fracking is causing all sorts of tension between residents of small communities:

The dispute has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and has often set people who live in suburbs or villages against the farmers and landowners who live outside them. The discord is compounded by hard times on both sides and by communication online giving everyone instant access to limitless information confirming their point of view.

And if gas companies have the power and money, fracking opponents, who are concerned about ecological threats like the possible contamination of drinking water, often have the numbers and the intensity to dominate local discourse. “There’s no arguing with a person who is opposed to hydrofracking,” said Bill Michaels, a councilman in the Town of Otsego, which includes parts of Cooperstown. After waiting to take a position, he eventually supported changes to the town’s land-use law that would prohibit fracking, but he still faces opposition from a slate of antifracking candidates. “There is no debate or conversation,” he added. “This is so important to so many people it’s pretty much hijacked everything else.”

I’ve seen that happen around here. I know one person whose land is surrounded by farmland owned by someone who lives in another state, and that owner decided to cash in and allow fracking. This, of course, has infuriated the homeowner, because she actually has to live there and is infuriated by the destruction of the gas companies and is worried her well water will be poisoned. As it is, there isn’t much she can do, other than pay to have her well water monitored constantly so that if her water does become poisoned, she will have a chain of evidence. That won’t give her clean drinking water, but it will give her a little bit of ammunition to fight the big money lawyers representing the gas companies.

55 replies
  1. 1
    cathyx says:

    That poor woman is totally screwed. So what redress does she have after her water proves contaminated?

  2. 2
    arguingwithsignposts says:

    Really good This American Life episode on this: Game Changer.

  3. 3
    cathyx says:

    Whenever I read stories of people/governments who rape and pillage their lands for greed, not caring about the longterm consequences of what they are doing, it always reminds me of the story of the collapse of Easter Island.

  4. 4
    Poopyman says:

    @cathyx: I’m sure it’ll depend on how friendly the courts are to the gas companies.

    And it’s not just her. Anybody who has a well on that aquifer is going to be screwed.

    It’s hard, if not impossible, to weigh the benefits vs the costs of fracking in your region when there’s the possibility that your environment may become hopelessly contaminated. But given that “early” evidence indicates the possibility of really serious environmental damage from a fairly small accident, you gotta question the motives of any pro-frackers.

  5. 5
    ericblair says:

    Yeah, those unreasonable sons of bitches who can’t see the upside to being able to light their tapwater on fire so their neighbor can make a few bucks. Can’t figure it out.

  6. 6
    Shalimar says:

    @cathyx: I would hope she could also win a suit against the neighbor and at least get the profits from the leases.

  7. 7
    c u n d gulag says:

    Conservatives and their Corporate sponsors have found endless uses for “Divide and Conquer.”

    This is just the latest example.

    It’s not your older brothers/sisters Conservatism anymore – using race, gender, or sexual orientation!!!
    Now it’s back to the old tried-and-true “The Have’s” vs. “The Have-not’s.” (And who says they don’t believe in evolution)?

    And how sweet, they found a landowner who doesn’t live on the land, so they don’t care what’s done with it, so long as they make a profit.


  8. 8
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    John Cole, I don’t know what the People Who Decide What Ads to Put Up on Balloon Juice thought was relevant in your post today, but I’m getting this:

    7 Fatal Website Mistakes . . . and How to Avoid Them! Click Here!

  9. 9
    Origuy says:

    There’s an article in this month’s Archaeology magazine about the damage fracking is doing to Native American sites. The issue may not be as important as protecting drinking water, but it does add some allies (and some law) to the fight.

    One approach that could mitigate harm to archaeological sites is to align the movement for their protection with the efforts of environmental groups. To date, concerns about groundwater contamination—by the chemicals used in and the methane released from fracking—have led to a moratorium on the process in both New York and New Jersey. Whereas some archaeologists worry that an alliance would lead to their interests being subjugated to environmentalists’ concerns, Tim Murtha, an archaeologist at Penn State University, strongly disagrees. “Conservationists do a much better job at communicating the issues than we have,” he explains. “We can’t disentangle human history from natural history or environmental history, and it’s that notion that should bring us together in terms of preservation.”

  10. 10
    MikeInSewickley says:

    I came across this the other day.

    Note: It is in Bloomberg (not exactly a dirty hippie site).

    Also it’s the US Geological Survey folks – they do this for a living.

    This is beginning to look like yet another scam and bubble.

    I’m for capitalism – I despise bad/crony capitalism.
    If I was at a town meeting on this, I would demand some science data to be released on just how the hell much gas they anticipate within an order of magnitude.

    The USGS data means that all the damage and upheaval for gas may lead to only 5-10 years max of use. Then you’re left with an abstract art piece in the middle of your fields and cancer agents in your water. I call Bullshit.

  11. 11
    Mino says:

    Can’t deny China her oil, can we? That’s why they need the pipeline–to ship out the oil.

    Resource extraction: Privatize the profits, socialize the damages.

    Honestly, this may be my breaking point with Obama.

  12. 12
    Menzies says:


    Given how they kept on making the moai even as it must’ve become clear that they were completely destroying their environment, it’s an excellent comparison.

  13. 13
    geg6 says:

    It’s a huge issue here. The vast majority of people I know are against fracking but all it takes is one or two people looking to cash in to ruin the drinking water of hundreds, if not thousands. And even people who are for it are pissed because all jobs associated with it seem to be filled with people from out of state, especially Texans. And NOBODY here likes Texans.

  14. 14
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    This all has to do with respecting the rights of others.

    Something that Randites simply do not do…because there is no one but them.

  15. 15
    Mino says:

    Here in South Texas we’ve had our first earthquakes. I have no hope that they won’t pollute our aquifers and then Texas can be a Dust Bowl again, unless chemicals in irrigation water becomes the norm, which wouldn’t surprise me any.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Jared Diamond’s Collapse discusses this, and other examples of people overwhelming their local environment and becoming extinct in the process.

    Diamond has hope that we will avoid this.

    I have none, because even though we can seeing it going on around us, greedy sacks of shit (I’m talking about you, global climate denialist fucktards) ignore the evidence because it’s not in the interest of their boundless avarice to do so.

    It’s the same pattern…a small group of asswipes run the society into the ground. Easter Island, Greenland, the Maya…the pattern can’t be broken, because there are people who outright deny the evidence of a collapse on the way that is right before their lyin’ eyes.

  17. 17
    Menzies says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    It’s human nature to think “God (or Nature, or whatever) will provide, because we’re not used to thinking on the kind of scale needed for climatological and geological changes.

    Unfortunately, it’s also human nature to preemptively decide that in that case, we might as well just not give a shit.

  18. 18
    Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937 says:

    Under a Cuomo initiative, New York has established “Regional Economic Development Councils”. I went to a public hearing for the one in my area. They have just established their ‘vision’ documents. In mine, the Finger Lakes Region, it is clear that fracking is inconsistent with their vision. I looked up a few of the other region’s visions and fracking seems to be incompatible with theirs too. I invite the anti-frackers to use these state sponsored vision documents to challenge the authorities for speaking out of both sides of their bodies. In particular fracking is inconsistent with:
    1) strengthen neighborhoods and communities
    2) increase tourism, recreational, and cultural activities
    3) sustainable growth through energy efficiency and leveraging existing investments in and promotion of energy innovation
    4) promoting agriculture, which is a dominant industry in the region. Many farms use wells for irrigation. I doubt spraying benzene on vegetables is a good idea.

    Any ‘advantages’ provided by short term economic boom in these rural areas will not be sustained so in 20 years or so you’ll be left with a a contaminated shit hole where poor people live.

  19. 19
    Menzies says:

    @Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937:

    This is the one Joel Seligman is chairing, no? UofR grad student, undergrad alum here.

    While I’m sure fracking is practically/actually inconsistent with what they say, given the lack of anyone capable of pushback against big business, I would be surprised if they didn’t end up allowing limited amounts.

    I know the documentary Gasland has been shown in the area, and there’s pockets of opposition, but nothing concerted yet.

  20. 20
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Jared Diamond is a zoologist and doesn’t really get archaeology. Some of collapse is good, a lot of it is on the spectrum of highly problematic –> wrong. Check out actual archaeologists who work in the areas (and with the descendants in some cases) of the people JD wrote about in the edited volume Questioning Collapse. (a good review)

  21. 21
    Dimmic Rat says:

    Fracking has never been proven to contaminate ground water. Gasland is bunk, anyone who has ever owned a well in areas with natural gas knows they need regular maintenance and vent holes or the water will become flammable.

  22. 22
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937: I’m not sure if The Finger Lakes area is part of a NYC water shed, but for years various upstate areas hated the City because our water shed protection measure messed up development plans. This may be one time NYC protection rules are good. On the other Andrew Cuomo has seemed friendly to the gas/oil pro-fracking forces. I don’t trust him.

  23. 23
    Cargo says:

    Back in the 12 Colonies they used to call this “hydrofucking”.

    sorry, I just have been dying to use that joke somewhere.

  24. 24
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Dimmic Rat:

    The stupid. It burns. Like the water near fracking sites.

  25. 25
    genghisjon says:

    One thing i have’nt heard much about,you drill x feet down,then you drill x feet sideways.What happens when the sideway drilling ends up under another persons land?

  26. 26
    Nicole says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: In all fairness to everyone’s favorite amphetamine-popping, sleeping-with-her-much-younger-protegé, kooky Objectivist, Ayn Rand believed very strongly that individuals must not stomp over the rights and property of each other, no matter how much money they might have (she particularly despised crony capitalism). Her views on environmentalism were that if you could prove a threat to other people’s health and well being, that government was obligated to legally put a stop to that threat. I’m not a fan of hers, but I like to think, as heavily as she relied on physical observations made with one’s own senses to form her opinions, that footage of people lighting their own tapwater on fire would have put her on the antifracking side.

  27. 27
    Malraux says:

    Then you drink their milkshake.

    More seriously, typically the well is considered to be using the mineral rights of everyone in a 25 square mile range.

  28. 28
    Walker says:


    The NYC watershed is the Catskills, which is an amazingly poor part of the state that saw a lot of tourism at the start of the 20th century, but does not anymore. The Finger Lakes are much further west.

    And only someone from the city calls the Catskills “upstate”. In the rest of NY, upstate is the Adirondacks.

  29. 29
    Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937 says:

    @PurpleGirl: The DEC released guidelines for fracking that technically allow it but with a lot more requirements than Pa. Since its a bunch of legalese, and I’m not an authority, and haven’t seen a good analysis it, I wonder if the barriers are Cuomo’s way of saying you can’t frack in NY. Some Southern Tier towns have passed ordinances banning all natural gas development since they couldn’t legally only ban fracking – mostly around Ithaca where the hippies lives. I think Cuomo is running for President in 2016 so I think some of his decisions are kind of a having your cake and eating too approach. Its probably politically smart but infuriating just the same.

  30. 30
    Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937 says:

    @Walker: We’re proudly ‘upstate’ when we want to bitch about those liberals from ‘downstate’.

  31. 31
  32. 32
    corwin says:

    Having worked in a lab, make sure your friend gets a high quality laboratory (NELAC accredited AND West Virginia certified) and make sure she gets complete traceability all the way back to the sample kits. She will also want to get professional help sampling, at least for the first few times she tests the water. She will want at least a Tier 3 data package which will include all results and QC, although a Tier 4 including all raw instrument results would be even better. If there is anyway the drillers can challenge the results, they will, which means the data needs to be completely air tight.

  33. 33
    Short Bus Bully says:


    Resource extraction: Privatize the profits, socialize the damages. Honestly, this may be my breaking point with Obama.

    Ooooh, good point! Because Obama’s opponents are TOTALLY opposed to privatized resource extraction, amirite?

    Think before you post next time.

  34. 34
    Elie says:

    @Commenting at Ballon Juice since 1937:

    I totally support your view and the actions that citizens can take…

    Our citizenry has become somewhat flabby in using grass roots activities and community organizing to fight back. OWS — while nothing to do with this explictly, will hopefully bring mmore attention and energy to citizens standing up for themselves — that piece is critical before tackling the complexities of stopping this or getting redress.

    I am more hopeful now than for a long time..

  35. 35
    Nellcote says:

    The rush to drill has created a state of confusion over the mortgage rules governing gas drilling leases. If you have a gas lease, your neighbor has a gas lease or if you live in a community that has a lot of gas leases, environmentalists warn that it is likely you’ll see the value of your property decrease and it may become almost impossible for you to sell your home. This is because almost all banks and insurance companies consider gas-leased land to be an unacceptable risk and will not give mortgages on or refinance properties that are leased or have gas wells.


  36. 36
    Xboxershorts says:

    @Dimmic Rat:

    If it’s so god damned safe, why do they need exemptions from the clean air act, the safe drinking water act, the superfund act and a whole host of other environmental regulations?

    And, pray tell, be specific about exactly what Gasland got wrong?

    You should travel to Dimock, PA today, there’s a zombie walk along the contaminated aquifer there. You would fit right in.

    If this gas is so critical to American energy independance, why the fuck has every single company involved in extracting this gas filed for permits to EXPORT?

    Ignorant ass. Everything you stated is completely and demonstrably false.

  37. 37
    OzoneR says:


    Can’t deny China her oil, can we? That’s why they need the pipeline—to ship out the oil.

    What I hate most about liberals is they’re always doing it wrong and end up losing.

    The pipeline is going to be built. Whether to Texas or Vancouver/Alaska, it doesn’t matter, it’s going to be built. Those who tell you killing the pipeline will kill the project in Canada are idiots, and they don’t really care about the tar sands in Canada, they only care about killing the pipeline through the US.

    If you want to stop the tar sands in Canada, you need to go after the companies who want to mine it. Once you’re fighting a pipeline, you’ve already lost the battle, and whatever profits we can get from a lost battle.

  38. 38
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    The scum that are her followers think only of “me me me, mine mine mine” in the sense of a three year old throwing a conniption.

    They have no appreciation at all for the rights of others.

    They represent the ultimate in tyranny.

  39. 39
    Mino says:

    @OzoneR: What posible influence could we wield over Canada? If she wants an ecological disaster, let it be over her lands, not over the US breadbasket. There is no need to starve while we wait for GW to finish us off.

  40. 40
    bystander says:

    I guess things work differently in the east than here out west. Once the mineral rights are established, the holder of those mineral rights, whether the land owner or not, can sell leases to those rights for mineral exploration. And, once that sale is completed, the oil/gas/whatever company has control. Out here, that out-of-state landowner would have no choice but to agree to fracking, because it would happen whether they wanted it to or not.

    As for horizontal drilling, out here, that’s a bit more complicated. A landowner can possibly preserve their surface rights if surface rights transferred with the deed when they purchased the property. In many instances, that’s not the case. Families who sold a property eons ago may have reserved the mineral rights and the ability to access them. It’s the holder of the mineral rights who determines whether or not to lease. Their descendents are also entitled to exercise those rights if they choose. The current land owner may not have any say in the matter at all, or even if they hold a small percentage of the mineral rights, that might not be enough to stop the deal. And, then there’s the small matter of forced pooling.

    Again, things in the east may be different… but this NYT piece doesn’t even come within a hundred yards of the complexities experienced in the west.

    As for Ms. Huntington (in the cited NYT article), she’ll figure out the economic problems with contaminated water as soon as those dairy cows start producing deformed calves, or fail to reproduce at all. And, when those deformed calves are disposed of (she’ll probably blame her feed company first), she’ll have to figure out a way to explain how all those odd chemicals showed up in the milk her cows produce.

  41. 41
    Scott says:

    Here in Texas it’s messed up too. Great article from Texas Monthly on one family’s nightmare.

  42. 42
    Walker says:


    Once the mineral rights are established, the holder of those mineral rights

    Many landholders here in NYS own their own mineral rights, even for just an acre or two. When people split off sublots, they very rarely held on to mineral rights. And if you do not own your own mineral rights, then the mortgage companies get VERY antsy.

    I know that this was a big deal when I was getting a new mortgage for a 8 acre plot this summer.

  43. 43
    Jennyjinx says:

    Our community is being exploited by fracking (natural gas, not oil). Our local newspaper was happily chirping about the big “jobs” brought by the gas companies. Those jobs are, of course, clerk jobs (the gas station is more busy) and the local Ponderosa needs more waitresses. None of those job include positions with the drilling companies. They pay the landowners this pitiful amount of money to allow it. They’ve agreed to pay for the damage they do to our local roads, though, that’s good. Right? pfft.

    Pennsylvania recently decided that the brine is too toxic to allow for disposal in their state. Being much tougher than those silly Pennsylvanians, Ohio agreed to take the waste. They’re bringing it the Southeast corner of the state. Because it’s not going to poison us like it’s poisoning them.

    This will most assuredly create more jobs for SE Ohioans: more doctors and nurses to treat the folks who are getting sick from the waste, coroners, insurance agents, funeral homes, counselors to help those who are left behind. Boon! Everyone fucking celebrate. Ugh.

  44. 44
    bystander says:


    Yep. Thanks for the link. It’s depressingly familiar.

  45. 45
    bystander says:


    Like I said, the east could be different. An eon ago, no one would have much thought about developing mineral rights in NY (I grew up upstate – Rome/Utica/Syracuse area). Pockets maybe, but not the kind of thing that was indigenous to the west, nor on its scale. Unless the landowner out here is the original settler (or direct descendent of), the odds of them holding anything more than an and eighth of an eighth of an eighth is pretty low. You have damned near NO control and NO say so, at all.

  46. 46
    toujoursdan says:


    There are some good critiques on “Questioning Collapse” as well.

  47. 47
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    Fracking has never been proven to contaminate ground water. Gasland is bunk, anyone who has ever owned a well in areas with natural gas knows they need regular maintenance and vent holes or the water will become flammable.

    Then if you’re right, the answer is simple. Legislate that the companies accept legal liability for all damages (including loss of property value), to a probable standard (rather than strict and direct proof) – and require them to obtain liability insurance from a reputable agency before fracking.

    If you’re right, this should be a trivial matter – the insurance company will look at the issue and be happy to take the chance.

    If you’re wrong, however, then they will be unable to obtain such insurance and be unable to frack. <b.Which is precisely the way it should be if you respect other people's rights.

  48. 48
    ErinSiobhan says:

    Oh good luck with that lawsuit thing. Friends of ours had their well contaminated by leaks from the underground tanks of the gas station near their house. Ten years later, the lawsuits were still ongoing.

    In the meantime, they drank bottled water and, when their water smelled too badly of gasoline, they could temporarily relocated to a hotel and get reimbursed. For TEN years. They couldn’t sell their house. They couldn’t afford another house.

    Did I mention they had two young daughters?

  49. 49
    MikeInSewickley says:


    My son said the same. He has some friends out west near Denver / Fort Collins.

    Basically, their rights stop very close to the surface.

  50. 50
    Bill says:

    @Dimmic Rat: @Xboxershorts:
    The fracking industry likes to talk about how ‘no cases of contamination have been proven’. There is a reason that no cases have been proven, and it involves the liberal application of cash and nondisclosure agreements to those whose water has been contaminated.

    That said, around here, it’s not at all uncommon for a water well to produce some methane, even allowing the tapwater to be lit afire ala Gasland. THis, of course, is during the period immediately following the intial drilling of said well. When wells drilled thirty years ago suddenly start producing methane, and there’s a fracking site a few fields over, I don’t feel like I need to think very hard about the cause. The very fact that the drilling companies won’t disclose the nature of the fracking fluids is also worrisome. Around here, the tankers full of well fluid depart for points west about 2 in the morning.

  51. 51
  52. 52
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Phoenician in a time of Romans:

    Reminds me how insurance companies won’t touch nuclear power plants unless there’s legislation in place to limit liability.

    Suddenly the free market isn’t so fucking free when externalities are taken into consideration, and someone has to pony up for the consequences.

  53. 53
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Suddenly the free market isn’t so fucking free when externalities are taken into consideration, and someone has to pony up for the consequences.

    But, of course, the whole economic theory extolling the benefits of free markets is predicated on the idea that externalities can be bought into pricing through mechanisms such as insurance.

    Why, if you start questioning that, you start building a case for regulation and state involvement to protect the actual welfare of people from market failures.

    Which makes you a commie, I think.

  54. 54
    Waynski says:

    @geg6: I worked with a Texan who was very well-paid at a major accounting firm. He left Manhattan fairly abruptly in 2004 after buying 180 acres near Utica. He said he was going to start a “Strawberry Farm”. This guy worked on oil and gas accounts his entire career and when I asked him half-jokingly if he was also purchasing the mineral rights to the land he was a bit flustered and said kind of shortly that he’d never thought of it. A Strawberry Farm? Maybe, but I’m pretty sure you don’t need 180 acres to grow Strawberries.

  55. 55
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    “That said, around here, it’s not at all uncommon for a water well to produce some methane, even allowing the tapwater to be lit afire ala Gasland. THis, of course, is during the period immediately following the intial drilling of said well. When wells drilled thirty years ago suddenly start producing methane, and there’s a fracking site a few fields over, I don’t feel like I need to think very hard about the cause. The very fact that the drilling companies won’t disclose the nature of the fracking fluids is also worrisome.”

    Shale gas and fracking came out of Dept. Energy research on extraction from tight geological formations in the 1980s. (However, that doesn’t stop the Teahadists from wanting to shut the DoE down.) I’d bet dollars to donuts the fracking fluids are minor tweaks on whatever was used back then.

    The Marcellus Shales and the deeper Utica Shales are way below drinking aquifer depths. The problem is with the drillers not grouting wells sufficiently carefully and creating conduits for liquids and gases. But without a drilling inspector right then and there, it’s very tempting for the drillers to do a crappy job of grouting.

    But the economics of shale gas, and the potential it gives to make the U.S. energy independent (really), means it’s going to be hard to stop shale gas development. And maybe it’ll put a spike in the tar sands develoment, which really are awful environmentally. Additionally, it’ll be hard to justify any more coal plants built with $3.5/million BTU shale gas.

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