April 5, 2011

Fracking for natural gas ALERT

"Slow down; you move too fast."

That line from Simon and Garfunkle's "Feelin' Groovy" comes to mind when I learned that the great state of Pennsylvania approved 3300 drilling permits for natural gas in 2010 and is looking at another 3500 in 2011. In the first half of last year alone, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found more than 530 violations at natural gas drilling sites across that state, ranging from spills and leaks to poor erosion and sediment controls, according to the state agency. Some of these chemicals could migrate into nearby sources of drinking water. Yikes!

These chemicals also remain in the fluid that returns to the surface after a well is hydrofracked. A recent investigation by The New York Times found high levels of contaminants, including benzene and radioactive materials, in wastewater that is being sent to treatment plants not designed to fully treat the waste before it is discharged into rivers. At one plant in Pennsylvania, documents from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed levels of benzene roughly 28 times the federal drinking water standard in wastewater as it was discharged, after treatment, into the Allegheny River in May 2008. Yikes again!

The "experts" now suspect that more methane leaks out of these wells than they thought. Methane is the wonderful gas that ignited when those hapless Pennsylvania families opened their faucets in the "Gasland"  documentary. That was NOT computer-generated graphics, folks. It's a no-brainer to take it easy on allowing more fracking (horizontal hydraulic fracturing) for natural gas wells in my great state of Virginia.

Yes, the Marcellus Shale formation stores googads of natural gas from its northern reaches in New York State down through West Virginia. It's huge too--under 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s total land mass, where it is buried up to 9000 feet deep.

But many elected folks in Virginia are chomping at the bit to allow fracking here--in the far western (very rural!) parts of the state.

So the Chesapeake Bay Foundation leads a coalition of environmental groups in petitioning the White House Council on Environmental Quality for a comprehensive federal analysis of the cumulative impacts of natural gas drilling in the Mid-Atlantic region on streams, the Bay, drinking water, air pollution, and human health. That word "comprehensive" implies a LOT of research and more than just a simple EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). And the word "cumulative" is not one that the gas industry especially likes. But moving too fast just to make a quick buck (actually lots of bucks) from natural gas can leave a lot of tainted water in its path.

The National Parks Conservation Association is one of the petitioning organizations because of their concern that public lands will also be damaged by drilling.

For a look at this issue from the industry, click here to see how the Marcellus Shale Coalition presents its case.