Shilling For Shale: Is the Illinois State Geological Survey serving a Fracking Master?

Not even one single scientific study was utilized in concocting the Illinois Draft Fracking Regulations

Very recently I completed a scientific study entitled “Fracking Industrialization and Induced Earthquakes”, which took a comprehensive look at more than fifty years of studies tracing the well-established connection between disposal of wastewater in deep-injection wells and induced (human caused) earthquakes. TXsharon did a brilliant job of summarizing many of its more salient points in a recent Daily Kos diary entry. I have come to learn that even though fracking industrialization of southeastern Illinois has been a matter of discussion in the state for more than the last three years, “Fracking Industrialization and Induced Earthquakes” is perhaps the first scientific study completed in Illinois regarding the potential harms that would result from the industry implementing their mass fracking industrialization plans in southeastern Illinois.

When reviewing the Illinois Draft Fracking Regulations put together by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), whose public comment period ended Friday, January 3, 2014, I was absolutely perplexed to discover that the regulations were drafted without the benefit of the input from a single scientific study. This disturbing fact is readily acknowledged on page four of the IDNR draft regulations in the following manner: “Published studies or reports, and sources of underlying data, used to compose this rulemaking: None.”

This is one of many reasons 97% of the hundreds of citizens who spoke during the ten hours of public hearings regarding the IDNR’s draft fracking regulations spoke against fracking in Illinois, as clearly the IDNR and the State of Illinois are in no way prepared to even honestly face the potential risks involved in mass fracking industrialization, let alone being capable of managing the regulatory responsibilities of 100,000 fracking wells in southeastern Illinois.

The Illinois State Geological Survey and the Oil & Gas Industry: A Tale of Capture

While the draft fracking regulations related to seismicity suffer from this same extreme lack of homework on the part of governmental agencies that are tasked with protecting the people of Illinois, there is an additional demonstrated reality that makes these grossly insufficient draft regulations even more problematic: complete capture and compromise by the Oil & Gas Industry of the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), the governmental agency that has primary responsibility for informing those seismicity related regulations.

Regulatory capture is a form of political corruption that occurs when a government agency like the ISGS that was created to serve the public interest instead is co-opted by an industry like Oil & Gas whose interests the agency comes to support and advance. This creates great harm to the public through the process of the governmental agency abandoning their primary responsibilities to educate and protect the public, instead promoting an agenda that serves industry profit motives.

Experiencing this reality of governmental agency capture firsthand while attending the Illinois DCEO sponsored Fracking Conference at Rend Lake College on July 18, 2013, through witnessing a factually bogus presentation by Robert Bauer of the Illinois State Geological Survey, is what propelled me into researching and writing “Fracking Industrialization and Induced Earthquakes”. If Robert Bauer, who is listed as an engineer and a geologist, was not going to give accurate scientific evidence-based information to more than 300 economic development officials from across fracking’s potential impacted 19-county area of southeastern Illinois, then someone had to set his distorted narrative straight.

A Problematic Presentation Reveals Illinois Governmental Agency Priorities

For the Fracking Conference itself Bauer’s presentation was given the straightforward title “Hydraulic Fracturing, Horizontal Wells & Unconventional Oil/Gas Resources.” In contrast in its YouTube treatment it was entitled “Are Environmentalists’s (sic) Concerns Over Fracking Valid?,” implying that his presentation would of course provide an objective answer to this question from the perspective of an informed leader of our state’s geological survey.

During his presentation, however, instead of addressing the substantive and well known concern of geophysicists and seismologists over the 9-fold increase in induced felt earthquakes over the last decade in the midcontinent region due to fracking wastewater deep-injection well disposal, Bauer tells the trusting audience in graphic detail that the fracking process simply does not induce felt earthquakes.

To illustrate this twisted narrative, on page 37 of his Power Point presentation (select Presentation #4) Robert Bauer includes a graph that indicates that hydraulic fracturing only induces earthquakes that have 1 million times less energy released than the smallest felt earthquakes, and 31 billion times less energy released than the smallest damaging earthquakes.

Check Your Tone, Mr. Bauer

Wow. What an absurd notion it must be on the part of those environmentalists that fracking in any way induces anything but the absolutely most miniscule earthquakes, earthquakes so lacking in energy that they have negative values on the Richter scale (between -4.0 and -2.0 magnitude). To exasperate his mocking of the notion that fracking has any connection to earthquakes of any consequence, Bauer equates the intensity of the average fracking induced earthquake to that of a small apple falling three feet and hitting the floor (page 39), creating a -3.0 magnitude seismic event that is clearly not even worthy of the moniker earthquake.

Of course any southeastern Illinois economic development official attending that Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (IDCEO)-organized Fracking Conference who did not know better walked away thinking that any environmentalist concerns over fracking-induced earthquakes was completely unfounded, and downright laughable, according to the trusted public servant, and Illinois State Geological Survey HR director, Robert Bauer.

Does Being 31 Billion Times Off Qualify As A Honest Mistake?

But Bauer got it wrong. He got it monumentally wrong, and under-represented the known magnitude of the larger earthquakes due to the fracking industrialization by 31 billion times! In reality what seismologists and geophysicists (not just environmentalists!) have actually demonstrated over the last decade via peer reviewed studies, several led by the U.S. Geological Survey’s own William Ellsworth, is that earthquakes as large as magnitude 5.7 have been induced by oil & gas wastewater injection, identifying a disturbing and historically unprecedented 9-fold increase in felt midcontinent earthquakes due to the voluminous increase in fracking wastewater deep-injection well disposal:

Midcontinent magnitude 3.0+ earthquakes:
1970-2000:          21 /yr
2001-2008:          29 /yr
2009:                   50
2010:                   87
2011:           134-188

Could Bauer be completely unaware that disposal of fracking flowback and produced wastewater is actually a part of the fracking process? Highly unlikely, given that in his Power Point he discusses fracking “flowback waters” (page 28) that are “treated and disposed in deep disposal wells” (page 29). Yet the veracity of Bauer’s entire presentation is completely dependent upon the premise that the disposal of fracking wastewater is NOT a part of the hydraulic fracturing process. And this is clearly not the case, and Bauer knows this, but unfortunately he is a casualty of the fracking industrialization wars, and has literally been captured.

Semantic Games and the Usual Misrepresentations

What Bauer is in fact doing here is playing the well-trodden manipulative industry semantic game that when utilizing the terms fracking or hydraulic fracturing they are referring only to the actual specific moment in the process where rock is hydraulically fractured by pumping high pressure water, sand, and fracking fluid down the well bore and into the shale play. This is an intentional misrepresentation and disingenuous ploy to avoid addressing the consequences of mass fracking industrialization’s entire life cycle, which of course the industry and Bauer understand intimately well are absolutely all a part of this fracking process, as fracking’s entire lifecycle are within the scope of regulations. Why else would there even be fracking draft regulations regarding damaging seismic events in excess of magntitude 5.0, if not for fracking wastewater disposal induced earthquakes?

There is simply no hydraulic fracturing without first drilling the well. There is also no hydraulic fracturing without 2,500 truck trips hauling in clean water, sand and fracking fluid. And there is definitely no hydraulic fracturing without disposing of the fracking wastewater. A geologist that implies otherwise is either employed by the Oil & Gas Industry, or they work for a government agency that has subverted educating and protecting the public in favor of purely industry interests.

Plausible Deniability: Could Have Bauer Just Missed Out on a Decade of Geological Science?

Page 40 of Robert Bauer’s Power Point reads: “Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies – National Research Council report 2012: Current process of hydraulic fracturing a well does not pose a high risk for inducing FELT seismic events.” Bauer paraphrased this sentiment from page 85 of the 265-page report. Shockingly, just three pages later on page 88 starts an in-depth analysis of felt earthquakes induced by fracking wastewater disposal in deep-injection wells. This section addresses the recent dramatic increase in 3.0 plus magnitude midcontinent earthquakes due to oil & gas wastewater disposal, giving specific examples of fluid-injection induced earthquakes in Arkansas, Ohio and Texas with magnitudes as great as 4.3. This magnitude is a million times greater in intensity than the range attributed by Bauer to fracking-induced earthquakes.

Adding insult to injury, do not forget about the well-publicized peer reviewed studies appearing in major scientific journals conducted by leading geophysicists and seismologists from the USGS, Columbia University and the University of Oklahoma that identified earthquakes as large as magnitude 5.7 and an overall 9-fold increase in felt midcontinent earthquakes caused by the proliferation of both conventional and unconventional (fracking) wastewater disposal.

Could Robert Bauer have simply missed out on all of this science? We do know according to the IDNR’s own admission that he did not utilize a single scientific study in assisting with the draft fracking seismicity regulations. And after all, that dramatic increase in seismicity has only started since mass fracking industrialization began in earnest a little more than a decade ago. Could a leader of the ISGS, who has not one but two active seismic zones (New Madrid and Wabash) to contend with, have plausible deniability that all of this extensive peer reviewed research from the last decade, reaching a recent heightened crescendo, must have just passed him by? Not likely.

Exactly How Wastewater Disposal Induces Damaging Earthquakes has been Understood Since 1966

In fact, professional geologists have known for nearly 50 years (as long as the theory of plate tectonics has been widely scientifically accepted) that deep-well wastewater injection can and has induced both felt and damaging earthquakes. Research on this front had actually progressed to such a point that by 1976 a study was completed that literally demonstrated how earthquakes could be turned on and turned off by proper manipulation of fluid pressure on a pre-existing fault! These are just some of the many interesting and relevant historical scientific developments analyzed and fully sourced in “Fracking Industrialization and Induced Earthquakes.”

What we have here is more than a failure to communicate, what we can see very clearly is that Illinois state government and its governmental agencies are compromised and have been captured by an unrepentant industry, pretending right along with the industry that there is not a single negative consequence associated with mass fracking industrialization. Call them lies of omission, half-truths, whatever you want, but when it comes at the expense of the environment and therefore our public health, it is just simply criminal.

This analysis clearly helps explain why the draft fracking regulations concocted by the IDNR are a sad, arbitrary, and not-to-be-taken-seriously attempt at regulations that in no scientific evidence-based manner actually addresses any of the plethora of documented liabilities associated with mass fracking industrialization. Least of all the reality of how the fracking process via fracking waste disposal does indeed induce not only felt earthquakes, but damaging earthquakes as large as magnitude 5.7.

So That is Who is Responsible for the Illinois Draft Fracking Regulations Regarding Seismicity!

Robert Bauer did announce at the opening of his July 18th Fracking Conference presentation that he and Don McKay of the ISGS will be “bringing forward research and service” to the draft fracking regulations regarding seismicity, having “tapped into a lot of our experts in the Geological Survey.” What they actually delivered, however, was making regional economic development leaders much less equipped to serve their local economies and protect their communities from the liabilities that we actually know accompany mass fracking industrialization, because according to Robert Bauer’s presentation, these negatives just simply do not exist.

For further demonstration of this narrative, check out Bauer’s textbook mastery of cherry-picking water contamination studies during his presentation, coming across no different than ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerman in claiming that no drinking water has ever been contaminated by the fracking process. Meanwhile, in reality, an analysis of nearly one thousand drilling records from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from 2008 to 2012 confirmed 161 separate cases of public drinking water contamination due to mass fracking industrialization just in Pennsylvania alone. The claim that fracking has never contaminated any water anywhere is an obvious and complete fabrication, and an insult to the intelligence of every person living in Illinois. If this complete violation of the public trust is what the Illinois State Geological has to show for itself, both the people of southeastern Illinois and their quality of life, persisting amidst two active seismic zones, are in mortal danger.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s