Fracking Brings Jobs And Pollution To Town
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting today from the studios of Texas Public Radio in San Antonio.
And the headline in today's editions of the San Antonio Express News reports that Marathon Oil bought tracts in a once-desolate place called Eagle Ford for $3.5 billion. Towns that seemed set to dry up and blow away are booming back to life atop one of the most promising new oil fields anywhere.
What's made that all possible is a relatively new drilling technique that frees oil and natural gas from shale formations deep underground. And it's not just here in Texas, but Wyoming and North Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The good news is that vast new supplies of energy are right here in this country, onshore, but no form of energy comes out of the ground without cost. There's a gas boom in and around Pinedale, Wyoming, for example, but the beautiful High Plains town also has some of the worst air quality in the country, some days as bad as Los Angeles.
If you've received a mineral lease offer from an oil or a gas company, how do you balance the pros and cons? If you took the deal, how did it work out? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And full disclosure: NPR's underwriters include an industry group called America's Natural Gas Alliance, which produced the ad we excerpted a few moments ago.
Later in the program, we'll speak with author Jon Phillip Santos about how Americans remember the Alamo in different ways. But first, fracking.
David Martin Davies is news director at Texas Public Radio. He's been covering the energy boom here in Texas and joins us here in his studio, and nice to have you with us today.
Mr. DAVID MARTIN DAVIES (News Director, Texas Public Radio): It's great to be back.
CONAN: And fracking has meant boom towns for this part of Texas. You went to a town that expects to see a population explosion just this year.
Mr. DAVIES: Well, Katarina, Texas, is a small town. It's not even a really town. It's an unincorporated area. It used to be a town outside of Carrizo Springs in the Eagle Ford Shale Play. And 101 people live there, have been living there for a while, and they expect to have a population of about 5,000 people by the end of the year.
So what these are is workers coming in to work the oil fields, to work the frack.
CONAN: Work the frack - and I assume people coming to sell them groceries and maybe a beer or two.
Mr. DAVIES: A Coke, a beer, things like that, yeah.
CONAN: OK, so this is a huge economic boom for this region, for this town, for this state.
Mr. DAVIES: It's a huge economic boom for people who own the land and then people who own the mineral rights. It's not always the same thing. You know, you can sell the land, and the mineral rights can be retained by a previous owner.
If you own the land, then you might get some money from the oil company for them to put a right-of-way or easement on your land or a little road or just disruption fees. They may pay you. But if you own the...
CONAN: Mineral rights.
Mr. DAVIES: Mineral rights, then you can make a lot of money, I mean, talking about millions of dollars. So it's - people are excited down there. And if you own nothing, then there were no jobs before, none, and just - it was a stagnant economy, really bad, pretty much ghost-town-ville.
And now people are getting jobs, and they're excited, and they're able to work construction and do other things. And the school districts are getting ad valorem taxes that before they weren't getting, which is good news in Texas because we're getting such harsh cutbacks in school funding.
So they're seeing the economic side of it. Right now, they're not really seeing the fracking side of with this part underground, and they don't know what it's going to do to their wells, their water wells.
They're seeing severe drops in water wells, incredible - water wells that have held steady for years after years are seeing 80-, 90-foot drops because each time you frack a well, it can take one to four to five million gallons of water to frack that well.
CONAN: As I understand it, you drill a well that can be 5,000, 6,000 feet down and then a mile horizontally or so, and then you fill that bore with water and then put it under great pressure. It cracks the shale, and that's what frees the gas or the oil.
Mr. DAVIES: Yeah, exactly. Well, when you drill the well straight down, you'll wagon-wheel out of it, and you'll take a different direction north, south, east and west to make the most out of that original well.
And then you do put high pressure - it's water, it's sand, it's little plastic beads. It's all sorts of different chemicals, acids. You inject that underground. It's like if you've got a honeycomb of little pockets of oil and gas underwater, you frack it, you break it up, and you're able to extract it because if you didn't frack the well, you might hit a gusher. It would last for about three or four months. But once you frack it, it's good for about eight or nine years.
CONAN: And this is all coming into production now, and it's making a big difference, as we said, economically in this state and elsewhere, too.
Joining us now is NPR national correspondent Jeff Brady, and he joins us from his office in Denver, Colorado. Jeff, nice of you to be with us today.
JEFF BRADY: Well, thank you for having me.
CONAN: And we've, as we mentioned, seen fracking going on in places from New York to Wyoming, and there is a few places, Pennsylvania in particular, where there have been some, well, pretty serious environmental problems.
BRADY: Yeah, and, you know, I've been watching the boom, especially here in Colorado and then north of us in Wyoming. And the difference in Pennsylvania is there's a lot of people who live there.
We have a lot of rural areas out here in Colorado and Wyoming, where if you, you know, get into a water supply, you're not necessarily going to hurt anyone. But when you're in a place that's densely populated like Pennsylvania, the risk of harming a neighbor is that much greater.
CONAN: Jeff, how does this happen if you're drilling at 5,000 or 6,000 feet down? And of course that varies with geology. Most people's wells are, what 400, 500, 600 feet down. How do these chemicals get into the water supply?
BRADY: Well, you know, it's not completely clear how it always happens. But, you know, when you're putting that much pressure and that much power underground, all kinds of things could happen.
You could be creating little ruptures in the soil that could allow methane to come up from that - someplace down below and get into somebody's water.
Or if that well that you've drilled down doesn't have a good casing on it, then water or fracking fluids or chemicals or whatever could start leaking into that water.
So there's a lot of different ways that you can experience problems associated with this.
CONAN: And of course it's not just the drilling, and it's not just the fracking. That water then has to be pumped out and stored somewhere, and, well, as we heard from David Martin Davies, there's a lot of truck traffic involved in moving all of that water and all of that pipe and all of that rigging.
And you're completely changing the character of these towns. Some that are blowing up and drying away in Texas might welcome that, other places maybe not so much.
Mr. DAVIES: Yeah, a lot of the counties...
CONAN: I'm sorry, we'll go to David first.
Mr. DAVIES: A lot of the counties are asking the oil companies to step up and pay for repairs of roads because it's wearing them down. They're not used to this level of truck traffic.
One - fracking one well will require at least 1,000 big rigs of truck hauling pipe, hauling water, everything else. It could take at least a month to frack that well.
They say it would bring you 125 jobs to do that to your area for that time and a lot of money to your region, but you're also doing wear and tear on the resources.
CONAN: And Jeff, you were going to say?
BRADY: Yeah, just it's amazing to be out in some of these small towns that were so sleepy for so long, you know, after the last boom from whenever it was in the '40s or the '50s or the '60s or the '80s, and then all of a sudden it seems like every other truck you see on the highway is a Halliburton truck because Halliburton is one of the big oil field services companies, and they do a lot of these hydraulic fracturing jobs.
And all of a sudden, just overnight, it seems like, these towns can turn into almost a carnival-like atmosphere with all of the activity. And there's huge amounts of money to be made, but everybody begins to realize pretty soon that this is also a dirty business, and there are a lot of impacts.
CONAN: We want to hear from you. If you've gotten an offer from one of these oil or gas companies to use your land, either mineral rights or through a bypass, something like that, how are you balancing the pros and cons? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Al's(ph) on the line calling from Fayetteville in Arkansas.
AL (Caller): Yes, I'd like to talk about my grandparents' land. My grandfather bought that land in 1960. And we had a well that had pretty good water, not great water, but decent water.
And up above us, they started drilling, and immediately we stopped getting water. And then after a few weeks, the water came back, and it was just undrinkable. It was reddish. It was...
CONAN: When you say up above you, you mean further upstream?
AL: Just up the hill up above us, a couple of hundred yards, the land adjacent to us, not exactly on our land. There are drilling rigs and drill pads up above us, and there are compressor stations and drill pads down below us.
And our water is undrinkable right now. And the one thing that nobody's really talking much about is the air. You know, at night, there's a lot of flaring, a lot of venting, and the - you know, our neighbors' kids are sick all the time. Their animals are getting sick. And it's - gas is not as clean as what we thought. We thought this would be a great deal for everybody.
And then we've had rains where - you know, each one of these drill rigs has a pond, a holding pond where old frack water is stored. And we've had some terrible torrential downpours lately, and these things have overflowed and spilled into the creeks, and the creeks are full of this reddish, metallic-red, smelly frack fluid, and...
CONAN: And Al, I just wanted to - sorry to cut you off, but I wanted to get a response from Jeff Brady. These are problems associated. How does the industry respond when these kinds of complaints are made?
BRADY: Well, you know, the industry says over and over we've drilled over a million wells that we have fracked, and there's never been a problem that you can trace directly to fracking is how that statement is qualified.
And it is - I've spent a lot of time trying to track down stories just like what Al is talking about here, and it's hard to trace things directly to hydraulic fracturing.
But I think that maybe there's a little bit too much focus on that issue specifically. And what we're really talking about here is a larger production process that's really pretty dirty and has a lot of effects on people.
CONAN: That's the trucks and the drilling and the pipes and everything else. But again, these are vast amounts of energy available in this country, jobs in this country. So there are other aspects of this, too.
If you've received an offer for money to drill on your land or to provide right of way, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in San Antonio today, at the studios of Texas Public Radio.
As oil prices remain high, energy companies look for new ways to reach deposits of oil and gas. Huge stores of both sit far beneath the ground in states across the United States - including here in Texas - but also in Pennsylvania, New York, Wyoming, Arkansas, Louisiana and others.
We're talking today about the process called fracking that now makes those deposits accessible. Critics, though, complain that the cost of energy on the environment and the drinking water is much too high.
If you received a mineral lease offer from an oil or gas company, how do you balance the pros and cons? If you took the deal, how did it work out? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Our guests are David Martin Davis, news director here at Texas Public Radio and NPR national correspondent Jeff Brady. And let's see if we can go to another caller. We're having difficulties with our telephone system again. Could we punch up caller one, please?
ELIZABETH(ph) (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hello, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH: Yes. This is Elizabeth.
CONAN: You're on the air. And you're in Lawrence, Kansas. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETH: I'm in Lawrence, Kansas. And I have two oil leases that I share with my brother and sister. And a grandfather on one side and a grandfather on other are the ones that we inherited it from. And we haven't heard back, but I wondered - I think both of them are in Orange County, Texas. And if they're drilling there and my grandfather was the one that got the mineral rights. If you own the land, you can sell it and keep the mineral rights. My grandfather was the lawyer that helped make that law.
CONAN: And how much money was involved here?
ELIZABETH: Well, he made a lot of money when he did that, but we haven't heard back anything on these leases, and that's - we've had a problem before with the lease, where they never pay you unless you come forward, you know? And it's...
CONAN: Oh, I see.
ELIZABETH: ...a real small percentage, but sometimes it's like, you know, if they don't say anything, we're not going to pay them.
CONAN: David Martin Davis, are there problems like that here in Texas, of people selling property rights or mineral rights and then not getting paid?
Mr. DAVIES: Well, I haven't heard anything that specifically about not getting - but I know there's a lot of funny business with mineral rights and you do have to find a lawyer that you can trust, who's going to look out for your best interests. When you do have an oil company or gas company coming to you, saying we want to frack you land, we think you've got natural gas or something underneath there. I mean, people probably have heard this for generation after generation. People coming to you, asking to do your mineral rights...
Mr. DAVIES: ...and doing things on speculation. And you might get a few hundred dollars and everyone's kind of like, ah, well, maybe it will, maybe it won't. But now that we know how to frack and how to do it well, and there's a market for it and gas and oil is so high, that people are getting a lot of money for it. Now there's motivation to get the petroleum out of the ground.
So then when they do come to you, this is your opportunity as a landowner or lessee to leaseholder to make certain demands of the companies and say, OK, I will sign this lease, or I'll lease it you, but you got to haul the water away, or I don't want to have anything to do it, or you got to have certain clean conditions that you can impose on them.
CONAN: And so, is that working out for you, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH: Well, we haven't heard back from - that's what I wanted to ask you, if you knew if they're doing any drilling in Orange County? (Unintelligible)
Mr. DAVIES: Orange County is outside - that is outside of the Eagle Ford Shale and outside of the Barnett Shale, which are two big plays that are in Texas right now, but as they get better at extracting oil out of the ground and the need grows and the price gets higher - you know, any place that has the potential, they'll probably be coming around eventually.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Elizabeth, and we wish you the best of luck.
ELIZABETH: OK, thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email from Andrew(ph) in Oklahoma City: Widespread use of hydraulic fracturing began in the 1950s, so this is definitely not a new technology. There's never been one documented case polluted groundwater from hydraulic fracturing. If your guests disagree, please challenge them to provide examples and cite legitimate scientific references that corroborate claims of groundwater pollution caused by hydraulic fracturing.
Jeff Brady, is this where we get back to semantic differences?
BRADY: Exactly. There's a lot of focus on fracking here, and I don't know exactly why that is. There's some environmental groups who have...
CONAN: It's a very powerful word, it's a strong word, fracking.
BRADY: Yeah, well, it sounds...
CONAN: Yeah, I...
BRADY: ...vaguely like a naughty word and I think that's one reason why that it gets a lot of focus. But a lot of times when people mention fracking, I think they're really talking about this larger dirty process of producing a petroleum product. And it is a dirty process. It has to be.
I mean, you're talking about a mile underground and gas and oil that does not want to be captured, and going in after it. And that takes a lot of power, it takes a lot of chemicals, it takes a lot of water. And it's just a dirty process and there are a lot of effects that go along with it. But, there are a lot benefits that have come from hydraulic fracturing.
And I was just thinking while Elizabeth was talking there, if I owned mineral rights in a place where they weren't yet drilling, I would certainly hold onto those because fracking is making it possible to go into places where there hasn't been oil and gas extracted for decades. And all the sudden there's another boom happening. Just because this technology allows a company to extract oil and gas in places that haven't been profitable for a long, long time.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. And let's talk with Steve, and Steve's on the line with us from Denver, in Colorado.
STEVE (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Steve. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVE: I own 640 acres of land in Garfield County, Colorado. If you went down I-70 a year and a half ago, you'd probably see 50 wells per half mile. You go down I-70 now, there's probably five wells being drilled. A lot of these - or most of them are natural gas wells. One of the major oil companies offered me mineral rights - to buy my mineral rights. I wouldn't sell them, so they offered to give me a set amount of money each month.
My neighbor, who's two sections away from me, 640 acres section, is getting $25,000 a month in royalties. And I told the oil company that I would be happy to sign over the mineral rights and accept the royalties if they would tell me what chemicals they use in their fracturing process. They refused to do so. And I even agreed to sign a nondisclosure agreement with them because they consider it proprietary information. And they refused to do so, so I turned down their offer. It was just over $20,000 a month.
CONAN: I assume, like most of us, you could use $20,000 a month.
STEVE: Sure I can. Sure I can. You know, I'm not rich, by any sense of the word, but my grandfather bought that land and we've got good water on it. Some of our neighbors - your previous caller talked about challenging water pollution. There trucking in - the oil companies are now trucking in bottled water to many people in the town of Parachute, Colorado, because their well have been contaminated by the fracturing chemicals. We know that because it's benzene products that are coming out of the wells now, where we use to have fresh water.
So, yeah, I could use the money but I also know that 10 or 20 years from now, it'd be worth more money, so I'm willing to hold on until they get honest with the public about what they're putting in the ground.
CONAN: And David Davies, the question of what those chemicals are, well, that's come up here in the Texas Legislature. You don't think of the Texas Legislature as a bunch of strict regulators, but they just passed a law saying the companies must disclose what they're putting in the ground.
STEVE: And the Colorado Legislature tried to do that and they couldn't get it through.
CONAN: All right. Well, they got it through here in Texas. Let's hear about that. Thanks for the call.
Mr. DAVIES: HB 3328, that's the fracking disclosure law that was recently passed in the legislative session that ended earlier this week. And it was a law that environmentalists worked with industry heads to try and come up with to expose what chemicals and products are being used in fracking fluids.
And some people say the bill was fracked in the process. You know, when it when into committee it kept getting more and more watered down; high pressure water being used on the bill. But other people are very happy with what they ended up with. They think it's a good start but it could be toughened up. And in about a year's time oil companies or drillers would be required to post online what they're using.
CONAN: And Jeff Brady, the regulatory environment in Texas, or Wyoming or Colorado is not the same that the companies are now finding when they try to start this process in places like New York.
BRADY: Oh, certainly. I mean those folks in New York - again, it's a more densely-populated area and they're used to a little more vigorous regulation there. And a lot of these oil and gas companies are not accustomed to operating in environments where there are vigorous regulators.
And not only are they facing vigorous state regulators, but there are also efforts underway to increase the national regulation. People want hydraulic fracturing to be brought under the Safe Drinking Water Act. That hasn't gone anywhere in Congress so far, but there are certainly calls out there.
And you have to start to wonder when you see these big companies like Exxon and Shell and all these other companies getting involved in the natural gas business. They used to just ignore this business in the past, but now they're buying up assets. You mentioned Marathon Oil earlier in the show. And when you get big, huge multi-billion dollar, multinational companies involved in this business, you have to wonder, can an under-funded state regulatory agency still keep a good eye on those companies?
CONAN: As the debate over fracking continues, a number of studies are seeking out to find out what we really do and don't know about its effects on the environment. The Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin just launched such a study. It's led by Charles Groat, the director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy there, and he joins us from member station KUT in Austin. And it's nice to have you with us today.
Dr. CHARLES GROAT (University of Texas): Pleasure to be here.
CONAN: As you've heard, a lot of environmental ills are being attributed to fracking or the whole process that includes fracking - not always, though, with sound science.
Dr. GROAT: Well, I think that's where we hope to go. And following up on what Jeff Brady said, that the whole shale gas development activity is a process. And many concerns and claims have been made about injuries to water, to air, earthquakes for that matter, and - attributed initially to fracking. And it -very likely that most of those or many of those problems are real.
The question is, what part of the process are they related to? And does the regulatory environment deal effectively with those parts of the processes that are the actual cause of the problems instead of attributing them just automatically to fracking? And we are particularly interested in those claims and concerns that have been subjected to analysis, scientific analysis, as to the ability to verify it by that process and which ones are still kind of hanging out there as untested in terms of what actually happened and what the actual causes are.
CONAN: And again, it might be just the felicity of the phrase, but one issue I was really interested in is fugitive methane. What is fugitive methane?
Dr. GROAT: It's been interesting to see how the concerns have evolved. Initially it was principally water quality and attributed to fracking affecting groundwater. Then we've really seen a wave of interest more recently in some of the air quality issues, that methane that escapes unintentionally therefore is fugitive and gets away, not captured. It's been caused as a - it's been expressed as a major concern to the - adding to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere because methane is a more significant greenhouse gas in the short term than carbon dioxide.
So how much do we know about the amount of fugitive methane that actually escapes not only from wells drilled for fracking, but from transmission lines(ph), from traditional fields? And what is the body of knowledge in terms of the contributions of fugitive methane to the atmosphere and its ultimate effects?
CONAN: We're talking with Charles Groat and Jeff Brady and David Martin Davies about fracking. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And here's an email we have from Linda: Last year my mother was contacted to lease her property to an oil company for fracking. The offer was $125,000 for a five-year lease, if I remember right. Hard to ignore. But all the surrounding landowners were also receiving similar offers. We struggled with it, but determined that they were going to drill all around us whether we signed or not, and that we would just be leaving money on the table, especially since our entire crop for the year had been destroyed by a passing hail storm just before the harvest. So far no drilling as far as we can determine, but it's been less than a year. Her farm is in the southwestern corner of Nebraska.
So there's somebody struggling with this situation. And Charles Groat, I wanted to ask you about this email that we got from William in Little Rock: One of the things I don't hear being mentioned is earthquakes. Central Arkansas has had a few groups who have done fracking on the Fayetteville Shale. In the areas where fracking has been taking place, there have been dramatic increase in earthquakes, including increased earthquakes, one that measured 4.7. When the earthquakes were mapped, they were centered around three areas where fracking was taking place. They have quit fracking for a few months and the number of earthquakes has definitely decreased.
Do you have any information about that?
Dr. GROAT: Well, only that we had similar incidents in the Barnett area of North Central Texas, and there was an investigation done to determine whether the earthquakes were related to the fracking process or not. And the conclusion was that they are related to the oil develop - the gas development process through the injection of wastewater into a zone that perhaps wasn't the best chosen. And that caused some of the minor - unfelt but minor earthquakes.
The Fayetteville is more of a classic one. The Arkansas Geological Commission, I know, was looking into the relationship between natural earthquakes that have happened up there historically over many years and the fracking process that is more recent, to make that determination of the relationship. As far as I know, the score isn't in yet as to what the relationship is, but there certainly are earthquakes in that area. There certainly is shale gas development, and the relationship between the two needs - still needs to be sorted out. And that's the kind of scientific approach we're interested in trying to understand -where it is taking place, what it's telling us and where it's not, why it's not, and try to encourage that it be done.
CONAN: Let's go next to the phone, and Dillon's(ph) on the line, calling from Buffalo.
DILLON (Caller): Hey. I just wanted to say my grandparents own a farm in upstate New York. And part of the reason they've chosen to sell their natural gas rights is that - the property taxes. And everything in Buffalo, it's hard for them to - having such a small farm, like a lot of the farms are in, in New York - it's hard for them to make money and pay their, you know, pay their property taxes without, you know, either selling natural gas rights or, you know, something like that, so - and I know that's been the motivation behind a lot of the other farms around us that have chosen to do that.
CONAN: And do you know how much money it is?
DILLON: I don't, no, but I know that - none of these are yet - have been, like - that I know of have been, like - wells that they've actually fracked. They've been just more conventional wells, but they still, I mean, I think that, I mean - my grandparents have 500 acres, and it's probably - they probably have, like, five to 10 wells on their property. There's been like, probably, you know, everyone around us has wells, so I know there's a lot of natural gas in that area.
CONAN: All right. Well, do you know when they're going to have to make the decision?
DILLON: Well, I know New York State - I don't think that they're really allowing, like, actual fracking right now, so I don't know if - I think that -if that were allowed, I think that that would really, at least in certain areas, I know, would really change a lot of people's minds (technical difficulties) you know, draw a lot of interest to that area.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And, well, Charles Groat, I guess I have to thank you for your time today. Charles Groat, director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, joined us from member station KUT. Thanks very much.
Dr. GROAT: My pleasure.
CONAN: And we're going to stay on and take a couple of more calls about fracking with Jeff Brady, who's NPR's national correspondent in Denver Colorado; and David Martin Davies, who's the news director here at Texas Public Radio. We're also going to be talking about what we know and things we may not know about the Alamo. Stay with us. TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: In a few minutes we'll remember how some people remember the Alamo. Different people remember the Alamo. But right now, let's continue our conversation on fracking. Our guests are David Martin Davies, who is news director here at Texas Public Radio. We're broadcasting from their studios in San Antonio.
Jeff Brady is with us in Denver. He's NPR's national political - or national correspondent who's been covering some of these issues. And I wanted to see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's see if we can go to David, and David's with us from Auburn in New York.
DAVID (Caller): Hi, Neal. (Unintelligible) waiting for a rally. Let me read you the flyer I have here. (Unintelligible) to stop natural gas (unintelligible) wastewater from entering Auburn's wastewater treatment plant, Thursday, July 2, 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 in front of Memorial City Hall, 24 South Street, Auburn, New York. Council meeting will follow.
They're going to be voting on this pretty soon because the Auburn sewer plant has been accepting this stuff. This stuff is absolutely a disaster from both the sewer plant and the people downstream. And most people don't(ph) begin to know about it. In New York...
CONAN: It hasn't - forgive me, it has not started in New York State yet, though, has it?
DAVID: No. They're doing vertical fracking. So they have vertical wells, and they're doing fracking with - using chemicals with vertical processes. It's not quite as bad as horizontal fracking. In addition, this Auburn plant has accepted water from Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania has had - where they are doing horizontal fracking.
So they'll drive all the way from Pennsylvania out to Auburn here, which is probably over 100 miles, to dump this stuff because some of the - they can't dump it in Pennsylvania legally, and they're dumping it here. And the treatment plant wasn't even doing a legal documentation that they're required to do by law.
CONAN: And Jeff Brady, this issue of disposing of the water after it's come out of the ground, yes, there is controversy about the chemicals that are injected into the ground. But when they come back out, well, they've picked up all kinds of stuff from their time, what, five or 6,000 feet deep.
BRADY: Sure. I mean, you send water underground and who knows what it's going to come back with. There's all kinds of things underwater. I mean, you look at water that comes out of many of the mines here in the West. It just flows across some of that rock that's been exposed for the first time in, you know, millions of years and all of a sudden it's got some sort of chemical substance in there that's not good for you or me.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from John in Cleveland in Ohio: Our governor wants to sign or has already signed fracking rights to state parks. Many out -taxpayers are outraged. And he says by the time we can vote him out of office, the damage will be done.
Well, we're hearing a lot of complaints about this. And I just wanted to go back, David Martin Davies, to some of the benefits of fracking as well, which are also undeniable.
Mr. DAVIES: The reason they're fracking, the reason they're doing the drilling and extracting the natural gas and the oil is because America needs fuel. That's just the bottom line, you know? We're willing to pay a lot of money for - you know, look at the price of oil right now. That's why that's what's driving this.
The conservation or alternative energies any - the best barrel of oil that exists is one that we don't need to burn, for a number of reasons. So - but we do need the energy, and you hear the refrain - drill, baby, drill - and we have an energy-based economy. That's what we need the stuff for. And so people need jobs, we need oil, we need natural gas - so therefore you need fracking.
CONAN: Let's get one last caller in. Let's go to Susan, and Susan's with us from Marcellus, New York, the town that gave the Marcellus Shale its name.
SUSAN (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSAN: Thanks. I'm just about 10 miles from Auburn. Actually, we're right near Syracuse. And about four years ago we were approached and we told the gentleman that we didn't know about it at that time so come back in a week. We did some research. When he came back, we said no, never got to money.
He came back a third time - and I use the term gentleman loosely - and he -this is my question for you - he told us that even if we didn't sign up, that our neighbors could sign up and they would do the horizontal fracking into our property anyway and take the minerals. Is that true?
CONAN: I'm not sure that we have the people here to answer that. Jeff?
BRADY: Yeah. I'm certainly not a lawyer who's versed in mineral rights, but that's exactly the kind of thing you wanted to call a lawyer about. And you really need - the person - the kind of person she's talking about - there is called the land man, another folks that come around and secure those mineral rights for specific companies. And they've got a reputation. And you got to be little careful and have a good relationship with a lawyer if you're going to talk with them.
CONAN: Dave Davies?
Mr. DAVIES: Well...
SUSAN: I mean, we - no, because we don't want them to. But how can you stop them from - if they're that far underground, going horizontally? How do you stop them? Do we even know if...
Mr. DAVIES: Well, you can, though, but - I was in a place called Cheapside, Texas, on Friday with a landowner. And she was - we're riding her fence together. In looking over across the fence, you can see they're putting up a pad in her neighbor's land. And she was concerned about that exact same thing, if they were going to, you know, horizontal into her land and it'd take her natural gas from her, and her oil. And so, she's calling up a lawyer to find out what's going on.
CONAN: Well, that maybe the only advice we could give you. And we're always sad when call a lawyer is the only advice you can give somebody.
SUSAN: Thank you very much, though, for the info.
CONAN: We appreciate the phone call too. And, obviously, this subject that we're going to return to repeatedly as this controversy continues. Dave Davies, thank you very much for your time and the use of your studio here at Texas Public Radio. And Jeff Brady joined us from his office in Denver, where he's NPR's national correspondent. We thank him too.
And remembering the Alamo in just a moment.
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