Pennsylvania High School to Host Bizarre Swim Meet – in Fracking Fluid

, former deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | April 1, 2013, 9:37 am EDT
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In what one concerned parent is calling “outrageous,” the Pennsylvania Department of Environment is allowing two eastern Pennsylvania high schools to stage a bizarre boys swim meet this coming Friday—in a swimming pool filled with fracking fluid.

The event is being held to demonstrate the safety of the fluid, a byproduct of the oil and gas extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking. Some politicians have pulled similar scientifically questionable stunts to reassure the public that fracking fluid is benign. Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO), for example, went so far as to drink a glass of the fluid in 2012.

The swim meet is sponsored by the American Oil and Gas Council, whose member companies believe that fracking could bring 3,500 jobs to the Lehigh Valley alone.

Administrators at Allentown Senior High School and Jefferson High School in Easton are facing a backlash from angry parents who claim they were never notified that the idea was under consideration. “The fluids might be completely safe,” said Sharon Petaluma, a mother of one of the swimmers. “But I feel that we as a community have the right and responsibility to know more about what exactly is in them before we allow our children to swim around in it.”

allentown pool

If Allentown High School administrators get their way, this pool will soon be filled with fracking fluid.

Most local politicians have stayed silent on the issue. But last week, former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell told his neighbors in New York to “relax” about the potential environmental impacts of fracking (while initially failing to disclose $30,000 in payments from a private equity firm with investments in the oil and gas industry).

A spokesperson for the American Chemical Society expressed cautious reservations about the event. “There is no way this would ever pass muster with one of our review boards,” said society spokesperson Andrew Murphy.

This reminds me of a similar debacle from 2012, when the EPA and the city of Cleveland announced they were setting the Cuyahoga River on fire to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Boys on the team were encouraged not to shower before entering the water, as researchers from Bausch & Lomb wanted to study the effects of the fluid on adolescent skin. “Initial tests have shown that some oil byproducts condition the hair and remove unwelcome odors,” said company spokesperson Christopher Stinton. “Who knows, we may discover the next Axe Body Spray—which will create jobs right here in Pennsylvania and help put our economy back on track.”

Meanwhile, many parents are livid. “These normally precautionary principals are completely disregarding the precautionary principle,” said Mary Thurst, a former Allentown school board member and parent of two.

“The issue is even causing divisiveness within my team,” complained boys coach Neal Hoffman. “My sprinters are taunting the distance swimmers because they’ll be in the water so much more.”

One administrator suggested that the schools could first stage a game between the schools’ water polo teams to see what happened before exposing the more delicate swimmers to the liquid, a suggestion that was quickly rebuffed.

“Those kids are beasts,” complained sophomore swimmer Jonathan Levi. “What is science going to tell us about them that we don’t already know?”

But the American Oil and Gas Council is undeterred, saying it may stage similar events around the country. “We’re looking at bottling the air around drilling sites and pumping it into hospitals and senior citizen centers,” said council spokesperson Spike O’Dell.

School administrators said they originally suggested following the lead of the State Department and solicit public comments on this controversial issue and then refuse to make the public comments public. But after several parents threatened to sue the two high schools, they decided to hold a community meeting tonight, April 1st, at 7:00 p.m. to attempt to address parents’ concerns.

You’d be a fool if you think that meeting is going to go well.

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  • What is lacking from Michael’s post is any reference to data from chemical analyses that would have probably been carried out prior to authorizing the pool event. This suggested early in the piece that it was a spoof. However, the message became clear—fracking fluids are not for bathing of man nor beast. Keep up the good work Michael. Next time how about a report on just what is in the fracking fluids, but you’ll be lucky to find out anything on these proprietary materials. It seems that one has to have the fluid samples surreptitiously gathered from agreeable land/lease holders and then have the analyses done by a reputable (disguised?) lab. Then again, the legal consequences of this project could be so foreboding that one quivers at the thought. There must be a way.

  • Dean Littlepage

    I actually believed the headline, but thought it was prob’ly a PR stunt using a thimbleful of fracking fluid in an Olympic pool. Wouldn’t put it past the, um, truth-challenged gang at the various oil & gas industry associations …

  • Lisa Wright

    I have to say that my initial reading of this piece led me to believe the author intended to satirize the oil and gas industry’s hubris and cluelessness, and to reveal the stooges who will go to ridiculous lengths to “prove” the safety of that which industry says is “safe.”

    After looking at UCS’s website in which it does appear UCS sees shale-gas as a “bridge” fuel, I can only hope that the independent-minded bloggers and scientists within UCS will work to dispel the notion that shale-gas is an acceptable fuel source. Unfortunately for us, well-placed leaders on energy have hitched their wagon to this falling star. Sadly, folks like John Deutch, Daniel Yergin, Ernest Moniz, and orgs like MITEI, EDF, CATF and others will likely find that building the infrastructure, developing, transporting and regulating this resource is ultimately a Fools’ Errand — not a problem for them — as we, the people, are their Fools.

  • Michael Halpern

    Hi everyone, thanks for all the comments. I wrote this piece for April Fool’s Day to point out the importance of the public’s right to know more about the process of fracking so that they can make more informed decisions about what should happen in their communities. It clearly rubbed a few people the wrong way. I certainly recognize that this is an issue that has changed lives, which is precisely why I think we need to talk more about it. Looking forward to keeping the conversation going in more serious ways, too. – Michael

  • I would like Mr. Halpern to come to WV to visit some of our rural communities in Doddridge, Harrison, Ritchie, and Wetzel counties to name a few. Be our guest at one or more of our WV Host Farms locations where we can put you at ground zero of fracking activities. Bring your swim suit. There are a couple of impoundment pits up on my ridge top that are just waiting for you to take a dip.

    It’s been the site of several tours recently given to environmental groups and students. Still time to book your reservation. We don’t charge a thing to give folks access to our private properties on or near gas well sites. Our innovative way to give the rest of the public a glimpse of what high volume slick-water hydraulic fracturing really looks like up close an personal, via WV Host Farms Program. Dr. Gorby is one of our biggest fans, and advisors to our grassroots outreach effort.

  • Pat Shields

    Funny but with a message that clearly some people don’t get. If you read the whole thing you will see the author does not suggest the fracking water is a good thing and he makes people think about the importance of caution. Bravo! Makes me want to join the group for $35! 

  • JB

    This is absolutely disgusting! 1. The fact that this is even a thought in your mind and 2. that you find this to be a joke. Our water has impacted from Chevron. Of Course, according to them it is “naturally occuring.” We drank and bathed in our water for 3 months before anything would be done. Nobody can know what my family has gone through. To gag if you get it in your mouth because the taste was so foul and to hold your breath to get a shower because of the disgusting smell. It was so bad that the DEP and lab guys gagged, but yet of course, they ruled it on the side of Chevron. Money talks and people are forced to suffer the consequences. I say if you think this is so funny, come to my house for a nice soothing shower and a big glass of ice water.

    • Yuri Gorby

      JB, I agree with you totally. I personally know dozens of people suffering from chemical exposure from water and airborne emissions from high volume frack wells and related industrial activities. Three of my friends have lost family members from exposure. Mr. Halpern’s comments are insenstive and disgusting. There is no excuse for this reprehensible behavior, especially from someone who represents what was once recognized as a organization of scientific integrity.

      Mr. Halpern, I repeat my invitation to you to travel with me to visit the people living and dying in the gas fields. Perhaps you would consider being my personal guest at the Pittsburgh Health Summit on Chemical Exposure in Gasfield Communities this saturday, April 6th. Here is the link for the registration form.

  • CarolynF

    Hilarious and topical. I shared it with friends and they loved it. So did my friend steven who is asmart cookie and hard to fool. Thanks for this!

  • Lisa Wright

    Awww…why’d you call April Fools? Shoulda kept em guessing!

    Anyway, swimming in it is for wimps. Real men drink it! We can call the stuff Hickenlooper Hooch!

    “The first-term Democrat and former Denver mayor told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he actually drank a glass of fracking fluid produced by oilfield services giant Halliburton”

    • Michael Halpern

      Yeah, Lisa, Gov. Hickenlooper’s stunt was what inspired my post in the first place. It was ridiculous enough, so I figured this would be considered even more ridiculous yet somewhat plausible. And by the time people get to the comments section, many people have figured out it’s a gag. And some feel that those who haven’t deserve to be let in on it.

  • Michael Halpern

    And yes, to be crystal clear, this is an April Fool’s Day post. No kids will be swimming in any fracking fluids this weekend, or any upcoming weekend, to my knowledge. Satire, however, is a good way to get people talking about the importance of knowing the benefits and risks of new technologies.


    • Yuri Gorby

      Mr. Halpern,

      My name is Dr. Yuri Gorby. A year ago I joined the Union for Concerned Scientist in the hope of interacting with credible, intelligent and responsible people regarding a matter of immediate concern…the environmental and human health impacts of toxins released by high volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing and all related industrial activities. It was the worst use of $35 I have ever spent. I was dismayed to find text like that I cut and pasted from the UCS website that clearly whitewashes the seriousness of real and documented health hazards from the toxins generated and released by this largely unregulated industry. But your “cleverness” regarding this absolutely insensitive April Fool’s has found a new low. Have you ever visited areas impacted by high volume hydrofracking? Have you met any of the hundreds…more likely thousands of people who suffer from chemical exposure from the water and airborne emissions from these facilities? If not, please accept my offer to take a trip to southwest or northeast PA. Come with me to Doddridge County, WV, where my friends are literally under fire from the flare stacks that are burning upwind from their homes. Come with me to Greene County, PA, to attend the service for Linda Headley’s mother, who…together with her husband…were taken to the emergency room with nose bleeds 3 weeks ago. Linda’s father is now home, but he must wear an oxygen mask to avoid the toxic fumes emanating from the compressor stations and well pads just up the hill from them. I hear he is now waiting on a decision about a lung transplant, so we should not waste much time.

      Your post has not gone unnoticed, and it will not be forgotten. You may attempt to remove it, but I have already captured the screen shot and it is being disseminated broadly. I am certain that you not permit my message to be published on the UCS website, but it too will be sent to thousands of people.

      In the future please show some sense of decency. Your post was nothing short of obscene.


      Yuri Gorby
      Professor of Biology and Environmental Engineering
      Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
      Troy NY, 12080

      Excerpt from UCS website.

      “Ninety percent of new natural gas wells utilize fracking, in which high-pressure water and sand are used to free up gas trapped in impermeable rock (such as shale and coal beds) deep underground. These operations can have a significant negative impact on local water systems.

      For example, fracking just one well typically requires 2 million to 4 million gallons of water, as well as a variety of chemicals—some of them toxic—to reduce friction, prevent corrosion, and kill bacteria in the well.

      Though most shale gas deposits are far deeper than freshwater aquifers, reducing the potential for groundwater contamination from fracking chemicals, there have been incidents of aboveground chemical spills and gas leaks into well water, which can make people sick and increase the risk of fires and explosions. “

      • Karl Dukovich

        This is funny precisely because it is so absurd.  Those who think that this makes fun of this issue or makes fun of people are missing the point. It is pretty apparent Fracking is something that comes with environmental problems. But sadly, complaining about them rarely does any good or gets anybody’s attention. 

         John Stewart uses satire every night to bring attention to really serious things. Sometimes it is important to make light of important issues in order to start conversations. I think Mr. Halpern does it well. Others might respectfully disagree. It goes without saying that once you have to explain a joke it just isn’t the same…

  • nancy martin

    not funny.

  • MOM

    April Fool! (The scary part is that you might give some dodo’s the idea to really do this!) But thanks for the laugh – it was very creative!

    • Michael Halpern

      Glad you liked it…whomever’s mother you may be.

  • Nancy Carre

    This might be a good opportunity to have some of that fluid tested. On the other hand, considering the level at which these people are functioning, it’s very possible they would just pump water in and pretend it’s fracking fluid.

  • Please tell me this is a Fossil Fool’s Day joke.

    • Michael Halpern

      Fossibly it is….