Reminder: ECA at Carbon County Commission on Monday, September 8 at 10:00 am (with John Mork video)

A reminder that Energy Corporation of America (ECA) will be making a presentation in Red Lodge on Monday morning, September 8, at 10am. Please attend if you can. It is important to hear what they have to say. More information here.

We’re not going to hear from ECA Chief Executive Officer John Mork on Monday, but to give you a sense of where ECA is coming from, I found this lecture given by Mork at the West Virginia University College of Business last fall. The speech was given just a few weeks before he arrived in Billings to announce that ECA was going to “bring the Bakken” to the Beartooths.

The speech is mostly unremarkable. It’s one of those “work hard and get ahead” kinds of speeches, but it’s also revealing in what it tells about the company and Mork’s views about energy.

In the first 25 minutes he talks about the development of ECA and how he went from flat broke to running what he says is the 39th largest oil and gas operation in the country. It’s a glowing picture of a company that has a small number of employees in whom they invest, and who show tremendous loyalty in return. He is clearly a successful entrepreneur wiho has put his personal stamp on ECA and become very wealthy building the company from scratch.

As he progresses, he gets into a description of the Marcellus Shale, above which WVU sits. He describes it as the second biggest gas field in the world, and “only about five percent developed.”

He describes the fracking revolution, and confirms that it’s really not the fracking that has “changed the world,” but horizontal drilling, which enables much more extraction in a smaller space:

“We are contacting way more surface area. It’s about contact” through horizontal drilling. Comparing an old well in West Virginia vs. a new well horizontally drilled, you get about 50 times the gas for about 12 times the cost.”

Description of the impacts of fracking
What I recommend you listen to is his description of the impacts of fracking on the environment. It starts at 28:47, and runs until about  31:20. I’ve done my best to transcribe the relevant sections below:

“What we do, we inject fresh water and sand into the ground with some chemicals that reduce friction…, we inject 4 million pounds of sand and 3-4 million gallons of water, and less than 5% chemicals….The chemicals we use in fracking are petty simple….We use a surfactant to reduce the friction. That would be the same thing you use to wash your hands with, soap you washed your hands with this morning, washed your dishes with last night, We use an anti-bacterial agent to kill the bacteria in the water that is naturally near the surface, that would be the Purell you use on your hands, and we use a guar gum…to thicken things up a little bit so it’ll carry the sand….That is actually the product that thickens your yogurt….

“And if any of you want to see exactly what chemicals we put in these things you go on the Internet because we post everything…that (we) pump in the ground.

“Another statistic that I love to tell, we have fracked over 10,000 times and never had an environmental problem…Statistically we are so far ahead on this that this is just not a question to us.

“One of the reasons we’re so sure, we cement 3/4 of an inch, three strings of heavy steel pipe between the fresh water and where we’re fracking so we’ve got multiple barriers, and we monitor all that,…and the fracking, we’re down at 5,000 feet, and everybody says, ‘Maybe you’ll frack into the fresh water at 100 feet.’  We’re really lucky if we frack 200 feet from the well bore.

“So for me, this is just a non-item.”

He says all this with a straight face, like it’s actually true.

When I listen to a guy like John Mork say things that are so demonstrably false, I wonder whether he is just lying, or he has somehow convinced himself that they are true. He obviously knows his business inside and out. If he thinks about these things, he knows they’re not true. Maybe he just doesn’t think about them.

Examining the truth
But it’s our mission here to make sure you know the truth, so let’s parse some of these statements and make sure you know why they are wrong:

  1. “If any of you want to see exactly what chemicals we put in these things you go on the Internet because we post everything…that (we) pump in the ground.” He’s talking here about FracFocus, where ECA does indeed post information about what chemicals they put into their wells.But a recent Harvard study exposed a number of issues with the accuracy of fracfocus information, most notably that “FracFocus gives operators sole discretion to decide when they can withhold information they claim is a “trade secret.” The study identifies three important aspects of laws which ensure that only legitimately confidential information is kept secret – substantiation, verification, and opportunity for public challenge.  FracFocus offers none of these procedures.” So Mork would have you believe that all they put in their wells is soap and guar gum. A word to the wise — don’t wash your hands with frac water.
  2. We have fracked over 10,000 times and never had an environmental issue.” Readers of this blog know this is a whopper. Click here to look at an online report from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. It provides detail on the 66 state inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, 55 enforcement actions and fines of over $80,000 in that state. You don’t have to read far to find lots of environmental problems. You can find 70 more violations in West Virginia too.
  3. “We cement 3/4 of an inch, three strings of heavy steel pipe between the fresh water and where we’re fracking so we’ve got multiple barriers.”   If you look inside the Pennsylvania DEP report mentioned above, you can find clear examples of failures of the cement casing Mork describes. Here are two:Violation 572332, 10/13/2009: Water sample was taken on 8/25/09 from artesian flow of fluids from 8 5/8″ surface casing hanger./ Administrative review of sample results revealed the following:/ 1) Discharge of industrial waste to the ground./ Sample results report the discharged fluids on the well site contained high levels of iron (26.0 mg/L), manganese (2.855 mg/L), and aluminum (0.977 mg/L)./ A ph of 5.3 was also reported./ These fluids were pooled around the well head and production equipment, and continued throughout a large portion of the site./ Based on the amount of fluids present, and the conditions on site, it appears as though the artesian flow has been occurring for a long period of time./ Since the initial inspection on 8/25/09, myself and oil & gas inspector Rick Hoover have consulted with operator representatives who indicated this well will be plugged” (page 13)

    Violation 60075, 12/10/2010: “Failure to report defective, insufficient, or improperly cemented casing w/in 24 hours or submit plan to correct within 30 days.” (page 22)

  4. “So for me, this is just a non-item.” Actually, this is probably true. And shame on you, John Mork for not recognizing how the wells you drill impact the people who live near them.

So we won’t see John Mork on Monday, but now we certainly know the ECA company line. Come on out on Monday at 10am to hear their version of the truth, but don’t expect it to match yours. And don’t be afraid to ask them questions to try to determine what they really plan to do along the Beartooth Front.

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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