There’s no one who stretches further to blame anything and everything on fracking. The man spins one fracking fairy tale after another.
Tom Wilber is a good writer, if only it wasn’t fracking fairy tales that he wrote. He’s a fractivist groupie. I like his writing style because it flows so naturally, which is, I suppose, why he’s so good at telling fairy tales. It’s like he’s right there with you in your living room doing a master storyteller routine, complete with a full repertoire of voice modulations, wild gestures and big eyes, pulling you into the scene. When it’s all done, though, you realize the whole thing was simple good fiction and that’s what we have with one of Tom’s most recent stories on the subject of sick foals in Bradford County which, of course, in not so subtle fashion, he blames on fracking; his one and only bogeyman.
The Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin (Press Connects) is where Tom Wilber once again hangs his hat and they apparently give him a free rein to explore whatever cockamamie “fracking is to blame” story he can conjure up. This one is titled “Mystery of Sick Foals: Was Fracking to Blame on Pa Farm?” – a leading question if there ever was one. If you read the entire story, you’ll find the owners do not blame fracking and there is no evidence it has anything to do with a dysphagia problem that’s been plaguing the young foals on their beautiful horse farm, but those facts are easily lost in wild speculation about a Chesapeake Energy gas well pad nearby, the “Halliburton Loophole” (which even Tony Ingraffea agrees doesn’t exist) and breathless recounts of all the possibilities. It’s classic Tom Wilber.
And, who does Tom Wilber quote for the story but Cornell University’s Robert Oswald, a big-time fractivist who, with his wife Michele Bamberger, have been spinning “list of the harmed” animal stories for several years, all the while acknowledging they can’t prove anything. That Oswald would rush to blame fracking is to be expected but shouldn’t Tom Wilber have told his readers Oswald and Bamberger had written a book called The Real Cost of Fracking? He didn’t, of course, because he wants the reader to imagine Oswald is an objective researcher, not a book-hustling fractivist like himself.
Notice, too, how Tom Wilber minimizes the conclusion of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and then effectively dismisses it altogether by introducing a series of uncorroborated conclusions, right down to the “632 chemical compounds” myth:
Testing has shown Allerage Farm’s well water is contaminated with levels of manganese, iron, aluminum and turbidity exceeding state standards. Before installing the new filter system in October, the farm used a sediment filter, which was effective until problems began cropping up with increasing frequency in 2014.
The nearby gas well in question, Struble 5H, was drilled in March, 2011 about 300 feet from the farm’s southern property line. Production began after it was fracked in 2012. The Pennsylvania DEP, taking into consideration samples prior to drilling, reported water quality on the farm “does not appear to have changed appreciably from before the commencement of oil and gas activities.”
Drilling has been known to compound existing water problems. Gas wells also produce air emissions from methane and other constituents rising from a mile below the ground. These impurities are bled off at wellheads and compressor stations or escape through leaks in the system.
In addition to the gas well adjacent to Gural’s farm property, 10 other sites operate within 5 miles of the farm. Their emissions are invisible but potent.
While the exact recipes for millions of gallons of solutions and fluids injected into and produced from the sites are proprietary, studies put the number of chemical compounds at 632. Of these, 353 cause illnesses to people or animals exposed to enough of them.
This is how Tom Wilber works; by suggesting there is something secret, something unknown about fracking, that must obviously be causing this problem even though there’s no evidence the water has changed appreciably. Interestingly, though he provides a link to the horse farm owner’s legal appeal of DEP’s conclusion to the Environmental Hearing Board, he doesn’t share some of these relevant details from that DEP conclusion (which can be viewed here):
Concentrations of iron and manganese above the applicable secondary MCLs are well documented in your area. In Bradford County, the Lock Haven Formation has been observed to produce groundwater containing manganese in excess of 2 milligrams per liter (mg/L), iron in excess of 1 mgIL and aluminum in excess of 0.2 mg/L. The wells that make up your Water Supply are both likely installed in the Lock Haven Formation.
While the Department did not determine that oil and gas activities polluted your Water Supply, please do note that your water quality does not meet (i.e., is worse than) health and/or aesthetic statewide standards. You may consider exploring remedial actions regarding the levels of turbidity, manganese, aluminum and iron, as identified above and also set forth in the attached sampling results.
That’s pretty easy to understand, isn’t is? The horse farm owners have above-average levels of turbidity, manganese, aluminum and iron that are typical of the area, pre-existed gas drilling and fracking and can be addressed with the sorts of remedial steps the owners had previously employed (filtering and sediment removal). Surprise, surprise.
Tom Wilber also left this out of his story (from a letter the owners’ attorney filed with the Environmental Hearing Board a little over a month ago):
In November 2015, the Gurals installed a treatment system on their water supply. Currently, the Gurals are conducting additional studies that should be concluded by the end of April 2016. Depending upon the outcome of these studies, the issues in the Appeal could be narrowed or the Gurals could decide to withdraw their Appeal in its entirety.
Wilber’s story and the accompanying slideshow suggest the water filtering has worked, and he includes these tidbits, which contrast sharply with the assertions made to the Environmental Hearing Board that “The Gurals believe that their water may have been tainted by Chesapeake’s nearby drilling activity.”
Though wary, Gural is not rushing to judgment about the nearby gas well…Gural reported his wife, Paula, feels strongly the dysphagia was unrelated to shale gas development.
Wilber then immediately changes the subject to the “Halliburton Loophole” as if to say “but, it must be the fracking…,” suggesting it has to be all those secret 632 chemicals, but the easily accessible FracFocus data for the Struble5H well and here’s what it shows:
It turns out nothing is secret; every single one of the 18 items that compose the fracking fluid (including water and two types of sand) is disclosed and there’s no aluminum, iron or manganese to be found on the list. The entire discussion of the matter was nothing but a not-so-clever distraction by Tom Wilber (“pay no attention to that DEP report, look over here”). He throws it in, along with discussion from Howard Zucker’s phony peer reviewer, Oswald, to deliberately cloud the water issue, offering up his own unique form of contamination. He then has the gall to suggest Cuomo and Zucker were being prudent in resisting fracking while Pennsylvania bulled ahead putting the burden of proof that fracking was not safe fell on those asserting it, as if that was somehow wrong and we should all have to prove our innocence of anything of which we’re accused. Such is the crafty mind of Tom Wilber.
If Wilber were truly interested in this matter for any purpose other than making something out of nothing and trashing fracking, he would have investigated other possible causes of dysphagia. There are 109, according to this report from the University of Copenhagen, which includes the following:
Unsurprisingly, though, Tom Wilber is never going to care much about any of this (though the horse farm owners do appear to be interested in the truth), because that’s not part of his agenda, Moreover, “Mystery of Sick Foals: 109 Possible Causes” headline just isn’t going to get by the editor at the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin. That’s not how fractivist media coverage works. Fracking fairy tales sell better, after all, and no one spins them better than Tom Wilber.