Fracking Company Featured in ‘Gasland’ Pleads No Contest to Criminal Pollution Charges in Pennsylvania
A natural-gas drilling company pleaded no contest Tuesday to criminal charges related to the contamination of drinking water in a rural Pennsylvania town more than a decade ago.
Coterra Energy Inc. entered the plea in Susquehanna County Court, two years after the Pennsylvania attorney general charged its predecessor, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., with 15 criminal counts for allegedly causing flammable methane to leak from natural-gas wells into residential water supplies in Dimock, Pa.
The company also agreed to pay $16.29 million for the construction of a new public water system. The company will provide bottled water while the water system is under construction and pay water bills for between 18 and 20 homes for 75 years, according to prosecutors.
Coterra said it worked with prosecutors “to resolve historical matters and create a path forward for all parties.” The company said it strives to follow best practices and exceed industry standards. It previously had maintained that the methane in residents’ wells was naturally occurring.
Dimock, a small community in the northeast corner of the state, gained national attention when the 2010 documentary “Gasland” showed residents lighting their tap water on fire.
Under state law, a plea of no contest, or “nolo contendere,” means the company accepts the criminal conviction, but the plea can’t be used as an admission of guilt in a separate civil proceeding.
Three years ago today, the government formally confirmed a moratorium on fracking in England.
DrillOrDrop has compiled this timeline of events that led to the introduction of the 2019 moratorium, its brief lifting and the latest U-turn.
We also look back at an earlier moratorium, introduced in 2011, also prompted by fracking in Lancashire by Cuadrilla. And we give details of moratoriums on fracking in Scotland and Wales, which have remained in force.
A total of 14 wells have been drilled to explore for shale gas in the UK, with only three wells being fracked to date. Currently, there are no proven shale gas reserves due to the lack of wells drilled and tested,
Whitelaw et al. (2019) and Lodhia et al. (2022) calculated GIIP (gas initially in place} of 140 Tcf and 131 Tcf respectively which is ten times lower than what the BGS derived but still a significant resource. The research was based on UK shale data and took into consideration the geological complexity in comparison to the BGS study which focussed on US analogues.
Impact on UK Gas Prices
Reversing the moratorium will not provide a quick fix to reducing UK gas prices because UK gas is traded on an international market where prices are set in relation to global supply and demand. If the resource potential of shale gas is proved, gas storage facilities could be required if production exceeds demand. The UK has some of the lowest storage capacity in comparison to other major European countries. Therefore, the gas could be exported rather than used domestically until capacity issues are addressed.
The diverse nature of the UK’s geology will pose significant challenges for fracking operations. Basins in the north of England have been subject to a complex geological history resulting in highly faulted and compartmentalised basins, which has reduced the economic potential of the shale gas. Thousands of wells would be required to be drilled to ensure commerciality over areas with high population densities, which would increase the cost and time to produce shale gas in the UK.
Shale gas provides an opportunity for the UK to significantly increase energy security by increasing domestic gas production and reduce reliance on imports in the medium to long term. This could provide the UK with more bargaining power when negotiating long-term gas supply contracts. However, shale gas will not provide an immediate solution to energy security due to the time it will take to drill the number of wells required to produce commercial quantities, coupled with the requirement of drilling rigs with specialist equipment and highly skilled fracking crews which are not currently available in the UK. Finally, local support and planning permission are key to commencing operations and this remains an enormous hurdle for the industry.
Shale gas production could reduce the reliance on imports which have a higher associated carbon footprint. The North Sea Transition Authority reported that domestic production has less than half the emission intensity of imported LNG. Gas is the cleanest fossil fuel and will play a significant part in the UK reaching carbon neutrality. Shale gas could be used as a bridging fuel through replacing coal and oil to produce energy until renewable and nuclear capacity increases.
However, the process of fracking is fiercely opposed by environmentalists especially following the induced seismicity from hydraulic fracturing at the Preston New Road wellsite in 2018 and 2019. Another environmental concern is the risk that fracking poses to groundwater contamination. However, the depth of shale in the UK is often much deeper than the aquifers and unlikely to pose a major risk. Large supplies of water are required for fracking operations and the method and rate of extraction could impact local water supplies. Other impacts to local communities include increased traffic and damage to the natural environment and noise and air pollution.
Based on the aforementioned points, the lifting of the moratorium on fracking could lead to an increase in domestic production, however the understanding of the environmental impacts and gaining societal acceptance must be addressed before shale gas can positively contribute to the UK’s energy security.
Sir David King, head of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, who was chief scientific adviser to the government between 2000 and 2007.said:
The drive for more oil and gas production was “completely at odds” with the UK’s legally binding net-zero target.
Furthermore, it would bring large quantities of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels to the market directly ahead of the 2050 deadline for reaching zero.
He said the plans, announced by the prime minister’s new energy secretary, Jacob-Rees Mogg, were “extremely alarming”.
“We’re looking at a situation where the crisis is with us here to but we don’t recognise that when we say ‘let’s go ahead and start new fracking operations in this country’.
“It beggars belief. What it seems to show is that the leadership in the government does not understand the nature of the climate crisis.”
Tessa Khan the director of the climate group Uplift and co-founder of Warm This Winter, a coalition of charities such as Oxfam and Save the Children and fuel poverty and climate activist groups, which is demanding the government do more to address the cost of living crisis.
She said the government’s apparent intention to double down on oil and gas exploration and push ahead with fracking was “both a challenge and real opportunity” for the climate movement.
“There is so much at stake for people in terms of their spiralling energy bills that it is going to be hard for the government to get away with plans that are obviously not going to address the fundamental cause of the problem and which simply lock us in to the same bust system. This can no longer be dismissed as a campaign about a future abstract threat, it is about the material reality of people’s everyday lives.”
James Hansen who is known as the father of climate science and one of the world’s leading climate scientists has launched a scathing attack on the government’s fracking programme, accusing ministers of aping Donald Trump and ignoring scientific evidence.
He warned that future generations would judge the decision to back a UK fracking industry harshly.
“So the UK joins Trump, ignores science… full throttle ahead with the worst fossil fuels,” Hansen told the Observer. “The science is crystal clear, we need to phase out fossil fuels starting with the most damaging, the ‘unconventional’ fossil fuels such as tar sands and ‘fracking’.””
The UK contains shale formations bearing oil in the south and gas in the north. The Bowland Shale in the north of England is thought to contain about 1,300 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas.
However, only a small proportion of gas in the Bowland can be extracted –perhaps only about 4%. Compared with North America, the shale geology of the UK is considerably more complex, faults are numerous, and drilling costs are substantially higher..
Despite this, proponents of UK fracking said that it could duplicate the US experience and lead to a cheap energy boom. The Conservative Government led by David Cameron called for the UK to go ‘all out’ for shale, removing the final say over whether projects could go ahead from local councils.
Fracking not economically viable
The Institute of Directors calculates that the UK shale industry could support 74,000 jobs, but this is not independently corroborated.
Exploratory drilling in Lancashire, by Cuadrilla, was halted in 2011 after fracking caused two earth tremors. Surveys in Balcombe, Sussex were also carried out by Cuadrilla, opposed by local and environmental protesters, although plans to frack were dropped.
A report by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) concluded that shale gas would not reduce energy prices or reduce the UK’s reliance on gas imports. It also pointed to the highly interconnected nature of European gas markets as a reason why fracking would not deliver cheaper fuel prices.
Seismic Experts at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University confirmed today that rock configurations beneath Britain’s most advanced fracking project raise further questions over commercial feasibility of the controversial technology.
Other English sites besides Lancashire on the Bowland Shale will be even more technically difficult to extract, their research indicates. Devolved governments at Holyrood and in Cardiff have continued to rule out fracking.
The peer-reviewed study led by John Underhill, professor of exploration geoscience, and Dr Iain Anderson increases the onus on Cuadrilla and other would be extractors to avoid earth tremors when seeking to commercialise the fossil fuel.
Tina Rothery is a Blackpool resident, campaigner and co-founder of Nanas Against Fracking.
Hysterical “luddites” funded by Russia was how Jacob Rees-Mogg, in parliament yesterday, described concerned residentsopposed to fracking in England. What a slap in the face for those of us who have spent more than a decade trying to protect our communities from the dangerous, polluting shale gas industry. We have never received so much as a rouble or a vodka shot for our efforts.
Here in Lancashire, we actually believed we had won this fight – twice. Our first victory was in 2015, when Lancashire county council rejected planning applications from the fracking firm Cuadrilla for two large sites between Preston and Blackpool. This decision was overruled by Westminster in 2016, and work began in 2017 to transform the Preston New Road site from a field where cows graze into a shale gas site. Nanas against fracking, a group I co-founded, started protesting at the site that day too, and continued for more than 1,000 days.
Our second short-lived victory came in November 2019, when the government had to halt fracking and put a moratorium in place, because the work had set off an earthquake measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale. Even if it is possible to monitor earthquakes, which are one of the most immediately dangerous risks of fracking, the government had to face the fact that you can’t control them. The moratorium brought some relief to local residents and campaigners; although, of course, we wanted an outright ban put in place in order to finally draw a line under this and feel at ease again.
The government’s decision to lift the moratorium yesterday sent shockwaves through our community. As an anti-fracking Nana, I know how much time and energy it takes to confront a heavily financed industry, while the government acts as its cheerleaders and police are used as security on fracking sites. My fellow Nanas Against Fracking feel angry and confused, as though we have been here before. In addition to earthquakes, we are racked with other worries, such as whether home insurance premiums will increase, as they have done for people living in areas near shale gas fracking sites in the US. Will we, like some of them, see higher incidences of childhood leukaemia ? What about the issues with maternal health – for example, an increased rate of stillbirths, for which there is some evidence in Utah ? What will be the impacts of the waste and methane released by fracking? Has the value of our properties already dropped?
Witnessing this gross failure of democracy can feel hopeless. I remember an older man in Balcombe in 2013 looking out of the window of a teashop in the village as it became populated with protesters. He said he had believed that working, paying his taxes, never breaking the law, raising his family, and owning his home meant that he was part of a democratic society, that he could call on the government if he felt at risk. But his MP – Francis Maude, who appointed Lord Browne, the chairman of Cuadrilla, as the government’s senior business adviser – did little to help. Seeing our protest, the man said he was relieved. He had been worried about what fracking would do to the health and wellbeing of people living in Balcombe, and that we were the only ones who heeded his call.
So, if you want to resist fracking in your town, community organising is the place to start. At its height, the anti-fracking movement in the UK was made up of 300 autonomous groups across the country. As well as physically protesting, we lobbied our local MPs, informed councillors, held public meetings, objected to planning, researched and networked, and spread our message in the media. We made sure there was a role for everyone in this movement, regardless of their age, ability, background or location.
The hardest thing about activism is stepping into it. Who would sanely choose to live in opposition to a more powerful force? To knowingly arrive each day accepting that arrest, violence and abuse are a certainty? We used to give public talks to communities at risk of fracking, and I called the talk The Unwelcome Gift of Truth. I hated informing residents of what was to come, because I knew the vast majority would find it impossible to ignore the risks their families would face; that they too would fall through the door marked “activism”, and maybe, like me, be unable to find the exit. How do you “unknow” the facts? How can anyone simply stand aside and trust that the government or its toothless regulatory bodies will keep us safe from this industry?
Yesterday, my fellow anti-fracking Nana, Anjie Mosher, told me: “Although the government has almost removed all right to protest, I will still peacefully stand up to do whatever I can to slow down and stop this industry before irreparable damage is done.” I’ll be doing the same, and I hope you will too.
Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth also cite reports warning that fracking could “potentially contaminate” groundwater due to the chemicals used in the process; will increase noise and industrialization in quiet rural areas; uses large amounts of water; and risks further earthquakes of unpredictable frequency and strength.
Cuadrilla says the clay on its site is “very well suited” to fracking and that it would conduct daily seismicity monitoring if operations restart. It also says that polyacrylamide — the chemical it uses — has been assessed by the Environment Agency as non-hazardous to groundwater and forms 0.05% of frack fluid.
A report commissioned by the government in April and published Thursday found it was still not possible to accurately predict geological activity as a result of U.K. fracking operations. But in a reversal of its 2019 position, the government now says more sites will need to be drilled to investigate further, while Rees-Mogg told the BBC this week the government will look to raise the level of seismic activity allowed at fracking sites going forward.
Some investors certainly see potential for a restart in operations, with shares of onshore oil and gas company Egdon Resources — listed on the U.K.’s Alternative Investment Market — up 6.3% Thursday and up 365% this year.
However, analysts say many hurdles remain, not least regulation, environmental concerns and the operational complexities. The are four main areas identified as potentially viable for shale gas extraction and more than 100 sites have been granted exploration licenses for fracking, but these still need permits from various regulatory bodies to progress further, along with political backing.
“While currently high energy prices may improve the potential economic viability of fracking in the UK, it may be less certain over the longer term,” Tobias Wagner, senior credit officer at Moody’s, told CNBC.
“It remains to be seen to what degree companies are willing to invest at scale given the uncertainties and concerns,” he said.
CAMPAIGNERS slammed as “alarming” plans by new Prime Minister Liz Truss to break a Tory Party manifesto commitment and lift the nationwide ban on fracking. Councillors across Gloucestershire said the controversial practice, which can cause earthquakes, is “not welcome” in the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean. Amid fears about spiralling energy bills, Ms Truss announced earlier this month that she would “end [England’s] moratorium on extracting our huge reserves of shale,” with the first drilling licences expected this week.
County councillor Paul Hodgkinson the Lib Dem representative for Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach said that the remarks from Boris Johnson’s successor are a “concern.” He said: “I’m quite alarmed to see the new PM talking about and promoting fracking now.“ If the government decides to railroad this through, what will we be left with? “Will it be a free-for-all for companies to just apply for licences? The risks of fracking have not gone away — we should be promoting renewable energy even more so.”
As the war in Ukraine and Putin’s supply cuts to have triggered alarming price rises in Europe, calls for the UK to ramp up its domestic supplies to avoid importing expensive foreign gas have grown. Liz Truss has responded by pledging to lift the ban on fracking that was slapped down in 2019 to boost Britain’s homegrown energy as bills soar. She claims this could get the gas flowing “within six months”.
But the Prime Minister has reportedly been warned over the practice, which was banned by the Conservatives in 2019 following a report by the Oil and Gas Authority that it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of tremors associated with fracking, as little progress has been made in this regard.