tv Inside Story Al Jazeera September 19, 2013 5:00pm-5:31pm EDT
this is al jazeera. i'm tony harris. these are some of the top stories we're following. pope francis says the catholic church needs to stop obsessioning over topics like abortion, contraception and home sexuality. detroit is $18 billion in debt, but some people are trying to stop the chapter 9 bankruptcy. a bankruptcy judge plans on talking to detroit's governor about their concerns. in order to avoid a partial government shutdown, congress needs to pass a budget in the next 11 days. the white house promises to veto
any plan that defunds president obama's health care law. about 200 people are still missing in colorado. it could take weeks to search through all of the areas. jpmorgan chase is paying one of the largest regulatory fines ever for the so-called london whale scandal. it will cost it nearly a billion dollars. and those are the headlines, the news continues on al jazeera next hour. "inside story" is next. ♪ ♪ >> natural gas production is a booming business, and fracing is a big reason. the debate over safety and pollution, aim mri indications for america's energy future. that's the inside story on al
jazeera america. ♪ >> hello, i'm libby casey. as america searches for energy independence, natural gas is a big piece in a complicated puzzle. hydraulic fracturing, or frac-ing has opened up a vast natural gas resource, but the it is controversial. it releases methane. but a study examined more than 500 wells at 190 sites. the researcher found that while
frac-ing released significant amounts of methane, but was successful at capturing 99% of the gas. by 2040 half of the nation's gas will come from frac-ing, it is estimated. using chemicals, sand, and lots of water under high pressure, drilling crack open the shale, releasing the trapped gas inside. >> sometimes there are disputes of about natural gas, but we should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer, because in the medium term it can provide power and help reduce our carbon emissions. >> some fear extracting shale gas from the ground can leak
meth thank into the drinking water. >> the bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. it's lowering many family's heat and power bills, and it's the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future. >> the new frac-ing study is the most comprehensive to date, but the debate continues. joining us now to discuss the university of texas study is steven hamburg, chief scientist with the environmental defense fund. steven what is the big take away from the study. >> there are two key lessons. the first is as you complete drilling a gnat wall gas well, the epa's equipment is very
eventive in capturing the methane, and the second is that the equipment is leaking a lot more than we thought. >> so where do you go with that information? >> i think one, it reinforces the importance of the epa regulations that are coming into effect now, and the second is, that we need to work with industry and -- to find better methods to reduce the emissions. >> so the epa will have these requirements put on the completion phase but not until 2015. right now companies have to capture methane, but they can either capture it or burn it. >> yes, we'll start to see a
tightening of those regulations, and extend the regulations to oil and gas wells as well. >> edf is one of the group's sponsors, why did you think this was worth investigation? >> we need to reduce the amount of energy reaching the earth s causing climate change. and methane is an incredibly potent gas. and we needed to reduce those emissions and understand where they were coming from. >> the study was funded by your group and nine petroleum companies. what do you have to say to those concerned about bias? >> sure it's critically important that we get detailed information from the actual well production sites. but we also need to use other
methods to ensure that we fully captured the results that are out there, and to do that, we have lots of studies ongoing. this is just the first of 16 studies that we're involved with, that looks at this problem across the supply chain. >> so what else are you looking at? that raises a good question. this is one component of what happens in the process of frac-ing. what else are you asking questions about? >> we're looking at the gathering lines, the processing, the transition of the gas and storage, as well as local distribution, that in a single-end use, natural gas use for medium and heavy trucks. but one of the key things is the integrity of the process we used by the university of texas. they did not give advanced notice of what sites they were going to visit. they asked the company for lists of their completions, they selected which site to go visit.
they made measurements there on completions. then they asked them for a list of all of the wells they had in the region. they picked which wells they went to visit, showed up and made the measurements. >> so the scientists had control, it's not like a restaurant that might clean up for an inspection. >> that's right. we're talking about a large amount of equipment that has to be on-site and utilized, and you don't move that around easily. and companies wouldn't have had the time to do that. and the companies asserted they gave all of the sites that met ut's criteria to ut to study. >> was this an opportunity to really measure the methane, at so many sites what did you find
out that either surprised or didn't surprise you? >> we found the equipment on the well pads were leaking a lot more than we had anticipated. and we were positively surprised that the equipment was so effective, and so those are -- that's -- you know, a mixed bag. we have something that reaffirmed the positive nature of what was happening but the need for additional activities. >> thank you so much. when we come back, more on this study and frac-ing safety? general. stay with us.
frac-ing, and a few study about methane emission. joining us are steve everily, from ithaca, new york, sandra steingraver. and from pittsburgh, dr. bernard goldstein, a former dean of the university of pittsburgh school of health. sandra, let's start with you. we heard from the edf that this new study shows there is a problem with methane release, but that the way to capture it is working. what is your reaction. >> i see this as a really deeply flawed study. what bothers me is not only the industry funding of the study, but also the control the industry had over access to these well sites. so what -- typically what
happened in a study who's results are very different from other studies would be some kind of explanation for that difference. and in fact, independent scientists in our own government have measured methane above our wellheads at 10 to 20 times what was found in this study. so this makes me wonder if this isn't something like studies from funded by the tobacco or lead industries lead to flawed studies. >> okay. and he said they plan to do more studies. would that help? >> we need to look at all wellheads, rather than just handpicked wells, and we need to look at these wells over a much
longer time frame, whether or not they are a little bit leaky or a lot leaky at the point of completion, we have to remember that these wells have gone down into the bedrock where all of this methane is, and for all eternity, those cement well casings have to prevent methane leakage. what happens when that cement begins to crumble, crack, what happens 10, 20 years from now? and we don't have another planet to try all of this out on. we are unrolling drilling and frac-ing operations across our communities using our land as the factory floor for this operation. all of our drinking water aquifers sitting right above it. so do we want to offer up the laboratory for doing all of this, and all of the people who
live in the communities, where not just methane but other toxic gases are being released. >> what did you make of the study? and it did talk about a high level of methane being released in the first place. >> it did, but the overall level they measured was lower than the epa estimated. >> i have to let you know that steven hamburg was able to explain to us that he sees it as statistically not that significant. that the epa measurements were just slightly less. >> that's right. but even if it was exactly equal to epa, that would be good news
in terms of understanding greenhouse gas emissions and the overall impact of the industry. what of the things we hear from the critics already is the issue that sandra brought up, in access to wells. the claims of who funded these studies aresten shamly bogus, because this study is rock solid. the other thing about access is you have to get permission from the companies to access the well pad, or else you are creating a safety issue. the only alternative is to literally trespass on oil and gas wells. so you have to have access to the data, and i think steven hamburg was talking about this as well, about getting the access and understanding some of the methodologies in there, but there is a very good result from the study.
>> dr. sandra brought up concerns about this being an experiment. and the earth and people's backyards is not the place to conduct these experiments. >> we have been producing oil and gas offshore and on shore for decades. technology has advanced and we're doing things in slightly different ways here and there, budget it has always been in advancement of technology. we're not going backwards. if you look at all of the wells across the country, you'll notice incidents are low, risk is low, and the benefits are exceedingly high. but, you know, the economic issue in terms of the backyard, you know, what this experiment is, i think a lot of people today that had jobs before the shale boom would probably disagree with that statement. >> dr. goldstein what are your concerns about health?
>> my concerns about health were made worse by this study. what this study has that is pertinent for people in pennsylvania who are asking us is it safe to live next to this drilling site? what this study shows is there's marked divergence from place to place from well to well. there are hundreds of fold differences in terms of the better sites to the worst sites. so when people ask about this, we have got to be able to answer, well, i guess, you know, it will be okay if you are lucky enough to be near one of the sites which is not just putting out methane, but that is also a marker for other come pounds that are coming out, and clearly the wide divergence here in terms of the amount of methane that came out in sites right next to each other, suggests there needs to be rigorous
oversight. the average is not useful for the people who live right next door to this. they need to know what the worst case would be. >> sandra, your concerns for those who do live right next to this. you brought up drinking water. >> well, some of the early results we're seeing from washington county, pennsylvania are really disturbing to me. we have in coming studies showing that people who have gone into clinics with health symptoms that they are concerned are linked to drilling and frac-ing operations in their backyard. when we have taken a deeper look at some of those symptoms and looked at the air quality inside their homes, we saw frac-ing-related chemicals that we know from other studies lead to the kind of symptoms that are
showing up in these folks. but what makes this science so difficult, and i'll try to explain this from somebody who is trying to understand the frac-ing industry, is the trade secrets. the industry has surrounded its with secrecy, and received exemptions from some of our federal laws, and this makes it very difficult for science to understand what is happening to people's health. but the case studies we're seeing out of pennsylvania are deeply concerning to me. >> how do you respond to the health concerns. >> sandra hit all of the main talking points right there. the health issue. regulators have been looking into this for years. the pennsylvania department of environmental production had looked into health related issues related to air emissions.
and they found none of the emissions were reaching levels that would cross a public health level. we're seeing -- they also did this in northeast pennsylvania and came to the exact same conclusion, and in texas, so we're seeing this registering of emissions, granted, but they are below a public health level. it's not put into proper context about what is a safe level? what is a background level? and understanding that full story. >> how do you deal with people who have grave concerns about this in terms of health in their communities? what sort of assurance do you give them and are there studies you can point to. >> when people have concerns about -- anything, those deserve to be addressed.
we're not solving problems into blaming frac-ing. in pennsylvania itself toxic air emissions is down 14% because of increased natural gas use. the air in pittsburgh has s cleaner than it has been in a long time. we're seeing reduced emissions because of natural gas. >> we'll talk about the broader energy picture in just a moment, but first has there been enough research to evaluate this. >> particularly one of the advantages of the edf study, which i think is a very good one, is they knew when these completions were going on -- >> take a moment to remind our
audience what completion means. >> that's when the fluid comes back from underground. the driller might put 500 million gallons of water with these chemicals in it, the water then breaks open the holes so the shale gas can get out, but the water has to be cleared out, and it brings a lot of hydrocarbons with it, and that's the time we are particularly concerned about air pollution. we cannot do a study in an area to find out what the air pollution is during completions, unless the industry tells us when they are doing it. and they don't have to tell us publicly until 60 days after they have done it. so we don't know. >> we need to take a short break. but when we come back, we'll wrap up our discussion with a
natural gas. still with us steve everily, sandra steingraber, and from pittsburgh, dr. bernard goldstein. he served in the environmental protection agency under president reagan. we heard from dr. goldstein that he wants to see more independent monitoring on these sites, without the oversight of the companies. would you agree? >> i think more research is always a good thing. whether it's air emissions, water, or any sort of impact. and that's not just for the oil and gas industry -- >> independence analysis? >> the issue, though, is you are not going to get access to a well site without the permission of the company because there are safety issues involved. >> so how do you square that
dr. goldstein. >> the people living nearby that say they are smelling things. i would like to put something there in advance of the time they are going through their frac-ing, but if i don't know when they are frac-ing i can't set up a study, and if they don't tell me, i can't do it. >> president obama has talked about it as a middle energy source as we transition over to more natural technology. what do you think about that sandra? >> well, certainly, the international energy agency tells us that it's not. in other words we can have all of the arguments we want of how many molecules of methane can dance on the head of a pin, but the fact is if we envision a future where even if we have
leak-free wells, that we're going to now frac our way into climate stability. the numbers don't add up, simply by come busting that amount of methane and turning it into carbon oxide, we continue to destabilize the planet's climate. so it's a little bit like saying to a patient who is hemorrhaging, well let's just stab them with a smaller knife now. or to tell an alcoholic drink wine rather than whiskey, rather than the program of alcoholics anon-mousse. >> i want to get a response from steve, because we just have about a minute left. steve, it still pollutes. >> well, i'm sure there is a small segment of the population to which sandra's message
resinates, but i don't know that show knows that the current secretary, the former secretary, and many others don't know. by the way the international energy agency that she mentioned said natural gas is reducing emissions. >> i have to get to dr. goldstein, we only have about 20 seconds. >> i think natural gas can be available particularly since it will protect us from coal fired emissions. but why do we need to start it today rather than three or four years from now, when it is going to run out 10, 20 years from now. >> all right. that's it for us from
washington, d.c., and from me libby casey. it's been over 20 years since the end of el salvador's butal cival war. but it's legacy of pain an misery still lingers. until now, amnesty has shielded from prosecution those suspected of atrocities. but the discovery of a secret directory of death squad targets has given campaigners hope that the guilty can now at last be held accountable.