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The Climate Show 18: The Big Chill & The Big Fracking Issue

Posted on 2 September 2011 by John Cook

Apologies for the delay in posting this (especially to Glenn) but The Climate Show has released Episode 18. Currently Gareth is off in Europe so it was up to me to fill Gareth's shoes (I imagine after he sees what I've done to his show, he'll be on the first plane back to New Zealand). This episode: the big chill freezes New Zealand, Arctic sea ice in the balance, the US has a warm July, the world is getting mad about fracking and some more unusual uses for solar energy. Guest star is Josh Fox who created the hugely impactful Gasland documentary:

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Comments 1 to 48:

  1. Fracking has been used for over 20 years where I live with no water issues as of yet.
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  2. Camburn: if I remember right, he mentions there are such problems in 5% of the sites, which is a pretty high rate given the consequences.
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  3. Typos?

    ... The Climate Show has released...
    ... to fill Gareth's shoes...
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    Response: [JC] Fixed, thanks
  4. Camburn#1: "Fracking has been used for over 20 years "

    The volume of frac fluid in shale gas wells is far greater than in frac jobs for tight gas sands that were done years ago. Pressures up to 15000 psi were used then as now, but the shale gas wells being drilled now turn horizontal. That requires much larger volumes of fluid to stimulate - upwards of 2500000 gals in the Marcellus shale play as an example.
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  5. No more fracking here in NZ, or there will be........trouble.
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  6. muoncounter:
    We have been using horizontal drilling for 20 years in North Dakota.
    The 5% of wells that fail, maybe out east, I don't know. IF we had 5% well failutre here we would know about it.
    We have a test well system checking the water supply throughout the whole state, not just in the oil fields.
    I only know what has been happening in the Bakken formation of North Dakota. It is working well here.
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  7. Camburn#6:

    True enough, but the early horizontal wells in North Dakota were for enhanced recovery in existing oil fields.

    Horizontal drilling was attained at 10,737 ft (measured depth) with a resulting radius of 630 ft. The well was completed on September 25, 1987 for 258 BOPD and 299 thousand cubic feet (MCF) of gas.

    That's not a bad well, but not necessarily in need of a frac job. Not the same as the massive fracs they are doing now.

    It's an industrial-size process. Accidents will happen.
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  8. "We have been using horizontal drilling for 20 years in North Dakota."

    Where have they been dumping the contaminated water? In your local waterways?
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  9. Rob@8:
    No, the contaminated water is put in a containment basin. There are plans to put up a water treatment plant to refine that water.
    Most of the water is in the shale deposits tho. The contaminated water is a fraction of the total water used.
    We have several important aquifers in ND. The state in the early 90's developed a grid system to sample water throughout the state. The system was not in response to the fracing, but to the high levels of heavy metals that are naturally in the water. During times of drought, the heavy levels go up. Arsinic is a valid concern, as well as mollybedium, lead, etc. These are all natural pollutants.
    We are a very energy rich state, but at the same time we are also a very conservative state. We want to conserve the environment as Ag is still the principle industry and 99% of farmers are very conscious of any type of environmental damage. We have large livestock operations that require good water. There were a few deaths from arsinic poisoning in the 80's, (A time of a 3 year drought), and thus the test wells were developed.

    There was one temporary pit that had an overflow this spring because of overland flooding. The fine that the company paid was several thousand dollars, and they had to clean up the contaminated area.

    We have not had a well case breach at this time that is detectable in any of the ground water samples.

    Our state PSC is very conscious of the demands of the public that oil/gas extraction MUST be safe for all involved.

    All I can say is we live here. We breath the air, drink the water. It is our lifeblood. We are used to pristine water/air and will settle, nor accept anything less. Our coal fired power plants are owned by a co-op, and being owners of said co-op, the stockholders encourage and demand continued clear smokestacks etc.

    We do not need the Fed government to tell us what is good or bad. We are doing just fine policing this ourselves.

    My only wish is that other countries had the same resolve to do so.
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  10. Ammend:
    The fine the company paid was several hundred thousand dollars. This was done to insure that this did NOT happen again. This has been the first and only spill so far in our states history.
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  11. muoncounter:
    Note that in both of these incidents, the water was contained, and the actual volume was very small. My water truck that I use for hauling water to my sprayer holds more water than was spilled inside the containment area.

    Both of these were well head blowouts, which is not the same as a caseing failure. To my knowledge, we have had no casing failures so far.

    There are approx 25 billion barrels of recoverable oil in this field, and the natural gas is also huge. Sheer numbers tell one that an accident or casing failure is bound to occur. The containment failure was dealt with the intent to make sure that the companies drilling, would understand that the financial costs would take away all the profit from that well. So...in simple terms.....don't spill or you will pay dearly.
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  12. Camburn,
    It's the oil patch. Accidents happen; all the 'we are doing just fine policing this ourselves' in the world will not prevent them. The best you can do is be ready to clean it up - it's just that oil companies aren't all that great at doing that.

    Second frac spill

    Two spills during oil well fracture treatments in four months — the last one just Saturday — has the state’s chief oil regulator poised to bear down to prevent more incidents as drilling intensifies in the oil patch.

    Concerns about offgasing frac fluid

    The Whiting Petroleum Corp. well was shut down nearly two weeks ago after a valve near the wellhead failed and caused oil, natural gas and water to spill into a lined pit, the Associated Press reported Nov. 22. State health officials said all the liquid was contained and there was no environmental damage.
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  13. muoncounter:
    Maybe the big ones aren't that great, but the small ones that are in the Bakken do fine.
    At this time, there have been no fracing fluids detected in any of the test wells throughout the state.

    In life, there are always risks. They are mitigated to the best of our abilities.
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  14. Wow, you really do have to love the lengths that people like Camburn will go to in order to defend an industry (oil & coal) with an extremely sketchy history in the area of environmental protection. Yes there are always risks in life, but why do we have to add even greater risks simply so that a multinational corporation can boost its profit margin?

    Also, how do you know that its been 100% successful? Minor leaks/contamination events often take many years for their ill effects to be felt.
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  15. "Maybe the big ones aren't that great, but the small ones that are in the Bakken do fine."

    Camburn, you are aware that most aquifers in a region are joined together? Pollute one part of the aquifer & you're polluting the *entire* aquifer. Some of us happen to believe that the *risk* of a catastrophic accident are too great for the supposed "rewards", especially when a host of much safer & cleaner alternatives are already available. After all, why risk ground-water contamination to extract gas, when you can encourage local farming communities to collect & anaerobically digest organic waste to generate both gas *and* nitrogen rich fertilizer?
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  16. Also, Camburn, I'm extremely curious about what interest you have in defending the Frakking industry. Anything you want to share with the audience?
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  17. Marcus:
    What interest? I live in the Eastern part of the state and don't have any oil under me.

    We are a lightly populated state. I have many friends in the western part of the state. We all have the same concerns.....a clean environment, responsable extraction.

    We have been producing oil for well over 50 years here. We have not had one major environmental problem.

    Fracking has been in use for over 20 years since the development of horizontal drilling.

    Topic 2:
    collect and anaerobically digest organic waste.

    Marcus: Do you know the environmental cost of doing this??????? I am a farmer. When you think that taking away the organic matter from my soil is a good thing.....then this only shows how little you know about soils. I work to INCREASE the organic matter in my soils, not remove it. I have been offered money to sell my straw....sure...short term gain...long term producitity loss on a large scale. This is NOT a practicle solution at all.
    The environmental consequences are absolutely horrendous.

    50 years.....nothing to write home about. I call that a pretty good track record. 20 years of fracking..nothing to write home about. That shows that we are monitoring the extraction pretty well don't you think?
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  18. Camburn, "a pretty good track record. 20 years of fracking..nothing to write home about."

    Once again, the frac jobs of 20 years ago (or even 10 years ago) do not compare to the frac jobs of today. When I left the oil business in 2002, shale gas was a drilling hazard; 5 years later it was the hot play. So you don't have a 20 year track record with this technology.
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  19. LOL Camburn, I'm a soil scientist, & can honestly say that the only one displaying ignorance here is you! There are plenty of farmers in Europe & the US who are already using anaerobic digestion to generate gas *without* harming the productivity of the soil-indeed, the other by-product of the process is so nutrient rich that it *improves* the productivity of the soil. Yet you'd rather we invest in a process which, when it goes wrong, can wreck the water table for decades to come? If that's the way you feel, then I doubt very much that you're a farmer.
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  20. muoncounter:
    Ah....sorry, but yes we do. Fracking has been used along with horizontal drilling in ND for over 20 years. The Bakken formation is a shale formation.

    Only when the price of oil went up did the drilling and production accelerate as it became much more economical to extract.

    https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/newsletter/NL0308/pdfs/Horizontal.pdf
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  21. btw, Camburn, you got anything beyond "anecdotal evidence" to prove the safety of the global fossil fuel industry over the last 50 years?
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  22. Marcus:
    I live in ND, I am talking about ND. The fellow went on and on about Fracking, and how bad it was.
    It has been used in ND for decades.

    A bit of history about oil and ND

    Apparantly it can be done safely. North Dakota proves this.
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  23. Marcus:
    Are far as globally, where it is monitored rigorously, and the rules enforced, as in ND, the safety is very evident.
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  24. Marcus:
    There are not many farmers using anerobic digestion to produce power.
    I know of two:
    one in Washington state that is heavily subsidized
    and another in Kansas.

    They are both dairies.

    IF you are a soil scientist, then you have a lot to learn. I will put my farming practices and yields against anyones. And I will also put my increase in organic matter in my soils the past 25 years against anyones.
    You can not achieve an increase in organic matter by removeing organic matter. It is that plain and simple.
    And when you talk of the fertility of the by product of anerobic digestion system, remember you are only moving soil nutrients from one point to another. N is leachable, but P and K are a finite resource of each ton of soil.

    You must be a young fellow. But this is not the subject of this thread.
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  25. Camburn, I find it highly offensive for you to question my knowledge of soil science when all you've given us to back yourself up so far is very weak anecdotal "evidence" to back your claims, both in relation to the "safety" of frakking & the "dangers" of anaerobic digestion & capture of fugitive emissions as a viable alternative to frakking. The desperation with which you deny global warming & defend the coal & oil industry leaves me with very valid questions about what you *really* do for a living.
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  26. Camburn, according to this site: http://www.jgpress.com/archives/_free/002318.html there are over 150 anaerobic digesters in the US, not 2 as you claim. Though the majority of them are associated with sheep & cattle farms, advances in the understanding of enzymes that break down cellulose (like those in Pandas & Termites) will allow crop waste to be increasingly used as a feed-stock. Also, the by-products of digestion are sufficiently rich in nutrients for them to be useful to crop & pasture farmers.
    My point is this-why defend a fairly risky technique for extracting non-renewable sources of gas when we have perfectly acceptable sources of gas which can be obtained in a far more benign & sustainable fashion?
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  27. Camburn#20:

    The Bakken is a naturally fractured shale. Horizontal wells drilled there years ago targeted these natural fracture systems; a horizontal wellbore has a greater chance of intercepting the more vertical fracture planes than do the conventional vertical wellbores. That is not the issue here.

    The massive fracs of the current round of horizontal boreholes that are under discussion here are a relatively newer application of older technology. Read the source you cite, which is dated January 2008:

    The third and current generation of horizontal drilling is a result of attaining much longer, deeper and more accurate placement of multiple horizontal well bores to exploit fractured source rocks (where it is coupled with new hydraulic fracturing technology) and heat injection wells (Canadian oil sands steam assisted gravity drainage) intended to boost both production rates and recovery factors. The present middle Bakken play in North Dakota and eastern Montana is an example of third generation horizontal drilling applications -- emphasis added

    Analogies: We had color TV sets 20 years ago, but we didn't have flat screen LCD. No one has 20 years of experience with flat screen TVs. We had particle accelerators 20 years ago, but we didn't have energies of 7 TeV until the LHC was finished. No one has 20 years of experience with such high energy.

    Moral: Merely repeating a partial truth over and over does not make it the whole truth.
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  28. muoncounter:
    This isn't a partial truth. So far in the Bakken, we have not had a problem. That is the actual truth.

    Marcus:
    The potential generation from anerobic bacteria is small, and very expensive.
    To get a large scale generation plant, the displacement of organic matter from the soils to a central point is large. The long term effects of taking organic matter from soils to a central location to generate energy does not justify this idea.
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  29. Camburn#28: Once again.

    The partial truth you keep repeating is 'we have 20 years of experience.' The graphic below shows the history of the US part of the Bakken play.



    So I will say again: yes, there were horizontal wells 20 years ago. But the red vertical line explicitly shows the onset of the recent boom in horizontal drilling. The reason rig counts and production spiked up during this boom? Massive fracs during the last 7 or 8 years mean better payouts (spiking price of oil helped with that as well).
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  30. once again, Camburn, you make a number of bogus claims without providing a shred of evidence to back yourself up. Seriously, where is your evidence that anaerobic digestion is expensive or unfeasible? Claiming it doesn't make it so. This unwillingess to provide evidence is an all too common failing of those who would "die in a ditch" to defend their beloved fossil fuel industry-even to the point of deliberately overlooking serious frakking accidents which might have permanently poisoned the ground water in your area- & yet [ - snip - ]
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    Moderator Response: [mc] Easy there Marcus, this is a PG-13 science blog.
  31. Marcus: Concering anaerobic digestion.

    I not only claim it is expensive, it is expensive.
    Prove me wrong, other wise my claim stands.

    What are my "bogus" claims? And what proof do you have that my claims are not correct?

    The unwillingness to prove me wrong is all to familiar from those who do not have a credible idea of real economic costs.

    Oh, there is no question that I am a farmer. The question is, if you are a soil scientist why you don't understand the effect of removing bio mass from productive land. That one floors me, and shows that your understanding of your stated profession is ...... [ - snip -]
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    Moderator Response: [mc] Easy there, Camburn; no need to throw the ad homs in.
  32. Camburn, you claim that its the absolute truth that there have never been any problems in the Bakken. Really? Are you 100% sure? Big problems, like those muon has linked to, are usually large enough to get wide-spread press coverage, but minor leaks-though still dangerous-often won't get reported. The same is true with nuclear power-the big disasters like Fukishima get massive coverage, but the frequent leaks at the Sellafield reprocessing plant is something you really have to go looking for!
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  33. Camburn, muon linked to 2 serious accidents in North Dakota in the space of just a single year-yet you claim there have been no serious incidents. You claim there are only 2 digesters in the US, yet I've provided a link that shows there is more than 150. So on 2 occasions your claims & the facts have been at opposite ends of the spectrum-so odds are very high that your claims regarding the expense of the process are equally without merit. Also, you should learn to *read*-the organic matter isn't permanently removed from the soil. The waste is digested to obtain the methane, then all the remaining organic material is returned to the crop. Seriously, how can you claim any knowledge of the process when you clearly don't even understand how it works? So far I've brought one more link to back my claims than you have-if you want to be taken seriously, then evidence will help!
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  34. Marcus:
    I have no idea where your live or what your upbringing was.
    I think the tone of your responses indicates that you are not used to people being truthful, knowing their neighbor, in fact, living in a state with such a low population and a harsh climate that we all feel akin to each other.
    As an example, I can drive 50 miles, stop, and would know the person I was talking to through mutual personal contacts. In fact, I could drive 300 miles west and the same would happen. In fact, I know people from the west, and south throughout the state. I am not the only one like this.
    IF there was ever a serious problem, it would be headline news....period. In fact, the one breach of fracking fluids because of overland flooding was headline news, widely discussed, the enforcement of a large fine was publicly supported. As a result of this one incident, the state hired even more enforcement personnel, with the public demanding this action.

    I don't think you understand how serious we are about protecting our precious natural resources here. WE are veryyyyy serious and expect only excellent business practices. Anything less, you are booted out of the state.
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  35. Camburn,
    'I know my neighbors and would have heard' is not evidence, it is an anecdote. Telling Marcus that he is wrong providing evidence that he is wrong is nothing but opinion.

    "That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."
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  36. "IF there was ever a serious problem, it would be headline news....period. In fact, the one breach of fracking fluids because of overland flooding was headline news,"

    Camburn-I trust *individual people*, I don't trust an industry with a long track record of poor treatment of the environment. Your *blind* trust of this industry probably goes a long way to explaining your willingness to accept the anti-AGW propaganda that this industry has also funded. The fact is that there was a serious *reported* incident back in 2008 which resulted in supposedly tougher regulations, but that these regulations didn't stop 2 major incidents in the space of 4 months. So I'd call *three* major frakking incidents-in a single State-to be a very serious issue, yet you just choose to dismiss it casually-it doesn't sound like the attitude of someone who is *serious* about protecting natural resources!
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  37. yes, pbjamm, Camburn seems to have nothing but anecdotes & a "trust me" approach to evidence. Muon has given several links to actual evidence of the major issues associated with Frakking, & Camburn has provided *NOTHING* of substance to repudiate that evidence.
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  38. Camburn#34: "you are booted out of the state"

    How will that work with the Keystone pipeline in your backyard? Can't exactly pick it up and throw it over the state line.

    But accidents sure can come see you in the form of pipeline spills, production accidents, ruptured saltwater disposal systems etc. Any oil field town I've ever been in, from Valdez, AK to Houma, LA knows this. In Ponca City, OK, they used to say that having the refinery right next to town was a good thing - 'you could smell the money.'

    It's a messy industry; accidents happen. There was a long track record of safe deep water drilling until one night in April 2010.
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  39. Marcus:
    Please read if you will. Both of the incidents in 2008 involved well head......not casings.

    Marcus & pbjamm: Show me where one incident involved fracking, the casings etc. I am all ears. I know that you won't be able to do so.

    muoncounter:
    I agree. An accident is bound to happen at some time. The law of averages dictates this. So far, with supervision, an accident of merit has not happened. I hope this continues.

    As far as pipelines, we already have pipelines. In fact, there are two that go through the county I live in. As far as routing, where I live makes a great deal of sense. There are no major waterways. There was a rupture some years ago 15 miles from where I live. It was cleaned up. In fact, an interesting discovery was made in that spill. The original mitigation area was over 4 acres. Cleanup started, and the mitigation area shrunk because we seem to have bacteria in this area that thrive on carbon. The soil hauled away ended up being less than 1/2 the original amount thought required.

    I am all for the Bakken Play as it is called. At least this formation has numerous horizontal barriers so the potential of contaminating ground water is very small.

    The Keystone pipeline will be built, and it will carry Bakken Oil as well as Alberta oil.

    Right now the world runs on oil. There are no alternatives to provide energy density for large scale engines used in tractors/transportation etc. That is reality. I would much rather have the Bakken oil used, as the safety record of this field is very good, than some other source with the potential of environmental damage.
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  40. Camburn@39
    I never made any claims about the merits or safety of fracking. I have never even asserted that your position is wrong. My only contribution was to point out that you had not provided any evidence to support your position other than with anecdotes and personal opinion. That is not a very strong argument.
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  41. pbjamm:
    Hard to post about a large accident when there has been none. The safety record speaks for itself.
    That is what I am trying to show to Marcus. It is up to him to prove that what I post is in error.

    I am all for alternative energy sources where practical. So far, those alternatives have not proven to be practical.

    I would hope that within 10 years there is huge advancement in alternatives. I know of some very exciting things that are close to being introduced.
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  42. I am not suggesting you prove a negative Camburn, but a link to an actual safety report would be worth much more than anecdotes.
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  43. "I am all for alternative energy sources where practical. So far, those alternatives have not proven to be practical."

    LOL Camburn-you sound the guy who says "I'm not racist, but...." You're quite happy to support fuel sources which have a very poor record for safety, yet you keep making unfounded claims about the non-practical nature of alternative energy sources. If you read a little further than the local Oil Industry newsletters, you'd know that there have already been significant breakthroughs in practical alternative energy over the last 20 years-24/7 solar thermal plants, Vanadium Redox Batteries allowing for base-load energy from Wind, small scale hydro-power schemes, high density algal biomass, land-fill & sewerage gas, anaerobic digesters for converting farm & forestry waste to methane (& an organic sludge that can be used as fertilizer). Seriously, if all of these technologies were so impractical, then why have so many individuals & nations adopted these technologies-in spite of the massive road-blocks thrown up by the Fossil Fuel Monopoly?
    According to this survey in Wisconsin-though it only dealt with Anaerobic Digestion at Waste-water plants, shows that electricity from many of these facilities is *currently* being sold at around $0.04c to $0.06c per kw-h. Hardly sounds like its economically impractical to me.

    http://www.mrec.org/pubs/Anaerobic_Report.pdf
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  44. Examples of contamination incidents from frakking in the United States:

    http://coloradoindependent.com/38146/wyo-fracking-contamination-case-eerily-similar-to-colorados-divide-creek-accident

    http://www.workers.org/2010/us/fracking_1209/

    http://royaldutchshellplc.com/2011/08/22/fracking-shell-admits-safety-is-not-a-given/
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  45. Anyway, Camburn. Until you have the decency to provide some *evidence* to back your claims-& not simply say "this won't work 'cause I say so" or "this process is safe 'cause no-one has told me otherwise"-then I really have nothing more to say to you on this subject-except to finish by noting that, for a farmer, you seem to know a *lot* about the technical aspects of the oil & gas industry.....
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  46. Marcus:
    I don't care to watch tv, etc. In my offtime, I read. I am an Icelander by heritage, it is either cultural or somewhat genetic, in that as people from Iceland seem to enjoy knowledge.
    That is my enjoyment. And with my reading, if I could find a practical way to generate electricity from my own source, I would do it. I have investigated the bio and wind. Unless heavily subsidized, it is not practical.
    Raising food requires a lot of energy, it is a huge expense. Any way to reduce the consumption of energy or replace it with another source is an ongoing endeavor.
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  47. North Dakota fracking blowout - Killdeer ND, sept 2010 http://uk.reuters.com/article/2010/09/03/denbury-leak-idUKN0324715520100903

    It's a desperate job rush in the Bakken where many of America's newly unemployed scrabble for any work at all. Not a pretty sight. From the AP with pix.
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  48. I've come in on this very late looking for fracking data... but I couldn't help notice Camburn, the ND Farmer who also claims to know Will Happer at Yale, doesn't understand that plants get their organic matter by photosynthesis using CO2 from the air not the soil. Digesting ag waste returns all the minerals to the soil, and there's more than enough organic matter to keep the soil loamy rather than sandy.
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