Jack Gutschenritter: Fracking truth


The Steamboat Institute recently held a seminar called “Fracking: The Radical Left’s Latest Weapon of Fear.” The title for the evening activities sounded unbalanced, so I attended to see what it was all about. It started with introductory background on directional drilling and the fracking process. John Lamb, of Steamboat Energy Consultants, stunned me when he skirted audience questions that were at the heart of the risks that fracking presents.

He was asked why fracking companies aren’t more open about the fluids they put down the hole. The questioner added that he was sure they wouldn’t be environmentally harmful (seeming to imply that would be imprudent).

Mr. Lamb’s reply was that companies consider the fluids to be competitive secrets. I buy this. But the list of hundreds of chemical compounds used across the industry is public record. They are well-known carcinogenic compounds. Not all are used in any one situation. But they almost always are carcinogenic. While the state of Colorado requires disclosure of chemicals used, Quicksilver Resources did not identify them to our Routt County commissioners. They said the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the chemicals they use will be at the well site for use by emergency personnel. They also admitted that they might use “found oil” if found in drilling. The components of oil are carcinogenic.

The industry also claims that fracking fluid is water “based” and hopes you don’t pursue it further. It is in fact around 98 percent water and a propping agent like silica (sand). The other 1 to 2 percent are the carcinogenic materials needed to reduce friction and perform other functions. A well that uses 4 million gallons of water for fracking can have 1 percent, or 40,000 gallons, of these carcinogenic materials.

Another member of the audience asked about the water that comes back up the well. Mr. Lamb answered that some of the water is “found water” and is all “organic.” The questioner countered that arsenic is organic, too, if the term is simply to mean it is naturally occurring. A forthright answer from Mr. Lamb would have been that about 30 percent of the fracking fluid is recovered. The balance is lost underground. This means that 12,000 gallons of carcinogenic materials (30 percent of 40,000 gallons) is lost. Furthermore, “found water,” naturally occurring where they drilled, can be forced to the surface. This water has been found to contain radium-226, uranium and radon-222. The industry, while attempting to hide this issue, is quietly enlisting the help of technology companies such as General Electric to figure out a way to treat this water. In the meantime, it is disposed of without treatment effective for radiation or carcinogens. Evaporative ponds, as likely will be used by Quicksilver’s treatment vendor, allow these volatile organic compounds to escape to the atmosphere.

The final point of misinformation was the popular industry claim that there have been no proven cases of well contamination. There are in fact hundreds of lawsuits that have been settled, involving hundreds of millions of dollars paid to private and public well owners. The industry trick is to not allow the case to go to judgment but rather to settle without admission of responsibility, and the oil company insists that the case be sealed so that the public cannot view the evidence. One case was documented before this practice was used. In 1987, the EPA found that a Mr. Parsons in Jackson County, W.V., had his well contaminated with fracturing fluids and natural gas by a well 600 feet away.

Jack Gutschenritter

Steamboat Springs


Lura Gerhart 5 years ago

Thanks, Jack, for a good commentary. May I remind everyone that our health and our descendants' health is too great a price to pay for "creating jobs," which is really a metaphor for increased earnings for the oil companies.


kathy foos 5 years ago

Thanks for the facts you presented Mr. Gutshenritter.Steamboat Institute accused people like me of being radical left'y's ,actually you talk toxic garbage talk.It's so rude and down right stupid,and immature.They seem like bullies that want to perpetuate ignorance and apathy.Fracking is very bad and you cannot make it all better with a good brainwashing.You should be ashamed of your selves.I'm not against harvesting oil,just tearing up this earth getting it done.Damn sick of being called a radical for it,you all wanting to pollute at any cost , are the radicals.


mark hartless 5 years ago

So here's the bottom line.

Say we stop fracking altogether... fine with me.

Nat gas goes back up to 4,5,6 bucks / mbtu... Fine with me.

Well, even at $3 it is way more expensive to produce electricity from Nat gas than from coal. So... Are we going to build any new coal-fired power plants? I'm guessing NOT if the anti-fracking crowd has it's way.

So... We sit back and watch increasing demand drive electric bills through the roof and rolling blackouts and eventually complete blackouts. "NO ELECTRICITY FOR YOU..." (soup nazi voice) If you can't imagine electric prices spiking in the next 6 years like gasoline did in the past 6 years that's ok, you won't have to imagine it, you can WITNESS it. Of course, I'm guessing that's fine with much of the anti-fracking crowd.

Or... we can build the gas-fired plants anyway and the price of electricity goes way, way up because not fracking, along with increased demand from new, nat gas burning power plants has sent the price of nat gas back up to $6... maybe higher.

Or... we convert to renewables altogether! Ahhhh, Routtopia realized. Only that electricity will cost many times more than even Nat gas fired. Oooooops

Are all the anti-fracking folks ok with that? Many might be, others will be heard saying how "big electricity" is "ripping us off" and reaping "winfall profits"... those winfall profitts will be caused by the actions of the anti-fracking crowd who currently bemoans the oil industry's winfall profits, hee hee hee,(can't make this stuff up)

Questions: If we can't compete with China or the rest of the world on 8 cents/ KWH electricity how the hell are we going to compete with them using 32 cents/ KWH electricity?

If half of us can't pay our monthly 8 cent/ KWH electric bill without help from Uncle Scam, how the hell are we going to pay 32 cents/ KWH electric bills?

If we cry about ski areas charging $100/ day to turn electric-powered lifts, who are we gonna cry to when they are forced to charge $300?

If we all convert to electric cars just before electricity spikes 3 or 4-fold like gasoline did in last 6 years how stupid are we?

Also... how much new industry do you folks think is going to spring up here in the good 'ole USA with no clue what energy costs will be, or worse, with the knowledge that energy costs are 3,4,5 times what they are in China?


Fred Duckels 5 years ago

Mark, It is not good manners to point out the shortcomings in the religion of others..


mark hartless 5 years ago

It's like shootin' cranes, oops... fish in a barrel, Fred.

All I can tell 'em is: choose an ironclad religion and they wouldn't have that problem.


Jack Gutschenritter 5 years ago

I just want to provide a little follow-up to address incorrect assumptions being purported in the commentary here.

Most experts in the oil and gas (O&G) Industry and those knowledgeable about world economic markets write that O&G obtained via fracking will have no impact on the price of oil or gas. It is a commodity traded globally. Local O&G companies will sell abroad if price is better.


mark hartless 5 years ago

I am still continually astounded how so many people come to belive the amount of BS that they do. I have, however, come to understand why the left must continually ignore and deny the laws of basic economics.

The left is not that good at "if... then" reasoning. Even if they were it would not serve them well because they must deny economic reality or their house of cards all falls down.

They can not acknowledge basic economic laws that do not sync with their vision. Like the quite pridictable failure of the welfare state which is collapsing in Europe. Like the quite predictable failure of kenesian economics to kick-start the US economy even after spending $5,000,000,000,000. Like the quite predictable result of lose fiscal policy overheating the housing market. Like making money for college loans cheaper naturally causes college tuitions to rise. Like when oil predictably spikes $3 overnight when Iran threatens supply through the Hormuz.

Like: Natural gas dropping from over $12/ mbtu in 2008 to under $2 / mbtu last week because fracking and horizontal boring have allowed reserves to increase exponentially.

Nope, no correlation there, not for the left.

My question: You guys are actually going with the story that increasing supplies of something will not lower price and that decreasing supplies will not raise prices? Seriously? That's the story you're gonna' go with?


Steve Lewis 5 years ago

Jack, Good points. Perhaps you can link to the market info you mention.

Even though they match what was presented at the forum, I doubt the fracking formula percentages you used are anything like what is used to frack in Routt.

John Lamb's percentages given at the forum were from a recent water frack job in the Bakken formation, in or around North Dakota. Here they are using propane and butane fracks, so the percentage of toxins in the local fracking formula would be much higher than 2%. On the flip side, Shell says they can recoup/recycle 95% of the propane brew. I would like to see more evidence on what is being done here. With propane/butane fracking a new and unstudied process, it seems we are living an experiment.


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