Sunday, November 6, 2011

Looking for Answers: The Search for Renewable Energy and the Effects of Hydraulic Fracturing

    I am an Athens County, Ohio resident and my home is on an environmentally pristine rural farm nestled in the Appalachian foothills.  During the past year, I have watched our community become increasingly united in concern for the pending changes coming to our area, regarding the hydraulic fracturing boom that rapidly approaches the land surrounding our homes and our way of life.  In order to better understand what may be coming our way, I began researching the method of hydraulic fracturing, the results of the process, and the accounts of the people who are involved. Ohio is sinking in an 8 billion dollar deficit, the economy is in dire need of a boost, people are in desperate need of work, and like the rest of the nation, our dependency on foreign oil is bringing us further and further away from where we need to be.  In the quest for alternative energies, we must always coincide with only that which is renewable and sustainable for our environment, and it is clear that change toward this path is essential for survival. Could this process of tapping into one of our great resources of natural gas be the solution to all this?

Fracking Site in Carroll County, Ohio
   Hydraulic fracturing, referred to as “fracking”, is a method of releasing natural gas from underground shale by deep drilling with a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals.  In the 1940’s the Halliburton Corporation led the way in this method of extracting gas and oil from the vertical drilling of wells by causing the rock to shatter from the fluid injection mix and catching the released natural gas upon pumping out the injection fluid (Bank 64).  In the 1990’s this original method was improved by creating a drill that would turn 90 degrees to bore in a horizontal direction for up to two miles. Today, from one drilling pad, companies are able to drill multiple wells in all directions, making miles of underground paths across hundreds of acres to collect gas (Bank 65).  Forty acres are needed for modern drilling platforms, and drilling goes down as far as 8,000 feet underground.    
         The gas and oil industry is massively growing from fracking, and thousands of jobs are predicted to be created in the near future.  Our nation is rich with shale that contains natural gas, and now we have the means to extract it, which of course will bring in a huge revenue.   Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department is in charge of mineral rights for 700 million U.S. acres, says that hydraulic fracturing “can be done in a safe way, in an environmentally responsible way, and in a way that doesn’t create all of the concerns that it is creating across the country right now” (Cook 1).  So there is concern across the country, and  Mr. Salazar is saying that while fracking could be safe and responsible, the country’s concern is because this is not currently the situation.                                                                 
Marcellus Shale Wastewater Sludge Ponds in New York
         In 2011, according to House Energy and Commerce Committee, SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY CHEMICALS are used in the fracking injection fluid, some being extremely hazardous to human health, such as benzene, lead, and diesel fuel.  For the drilling of one well, four million gallons of this chemical solution is needed.   And of course, what goes in will inevitably come out, and this is what is called wastewater. In 2011, the New York Times released an investigative report of the severity of environmental risks, one being “the radioactivity in drilling wastewater that is sometimes hundreds to thousands of times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water standard".  As geochemist Tracy Banks explains it, along with natural gas, this chemical injection also releases radioactive compounds such as uranium flowing along with the toxic chemical fluid.  She states, “the current methods for cleaning wastewater generated by fracking are woefully inadequate….this water needs to be treated like industrial waste” (Bank 63).  So where is this industrial waste going, and how is it making its way to drinking water?  A review from the Associated Press in January 2011 exposed that “Pennsylvania’s fracking water treatment revealed the state could not account for the disposal method of 1.28 million barrels of wastewater (one-fifth of the annual total) due to faulty reporting.  Some drinking water utilities downstream from fracking wastewater facilities have struggled to sufficiently treat or remove trihalomethanes, which can cause cancer with chronic exposure.  A lack of adequate oversight has allowed wastewater from fracking to contaminate the Delaware River Basin, which supplies drinking water for 15 million people in four states”.                                                                                    How can this be allowed to continue?  A ProPublica 2011 report states “An ongoing investigation into fracking since 2008 found court and government documentation of more than 1,000 cases of water contamination in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Reporters have unearthed gas and oil company campaign donations to members of Congress opposed to fracking disclosure requirements and catalogued individual and community case studies on the dangers of fracking, including environmental violations and contamination”.  Remember Halliburton?  That’s the big gas company who continues to pioneer the road for fracking methods, including  necessary loopholes.  The Halliburton company was previously led by former vice-president Dick Cheney.  In 2005, at the request of Cheney, the Halliburton Loophole was created by the federal government as a way for fracking fluids to be legally exempted from the Clean Water Act.  Otherwise the entire chemical composition of the fluids would have to be revealed.  As far as contaminated drinking water due to fracking, there are many, many examples from which to chose where the tap water is actually flammable due to so much methane mixed with the water. Here is one example:  

    This seems scary, right? Try watching video after video of footage from homes across the United States, all near monstrous drilling sites, all the residents explaining that before the drilling company came in, their water was fine.  Now it smells bad, its often murky brown, and IT LIGHTS ON FIRE.
Arkansas Shale Gas Production Related Earthquake 2011
    Another issue to be noted regarding hydraulic fracturing is the rising number of earthquakes resulting from the extreme pressure of the injection of fracking fluid.  Even Texas, never before experiencing seismic activity, is now reporting earthquakes near some injection sites for the fracking waste.  In Arkansas it is reported, “Last fall a swarm of about 500 mini-quakes rocked central Arkansas near the Fayetteville Shale, and a 4.7-magnitude earthquake in February prompted the Arkansas oil and Gas Commission  to order two drilling companies to temporarily suspend operations” (Bank 66).  Do we really need a more clear sign of environmental disruption taking place?  

         Aside from flammable tap water and earthquakes, are the residents whose land is leased to the drilling companies and those living nearby reporting of the profit and benefits of their experience?    Ms. Banks, author of  “Fracking Nation” visits the area where gas drilling first started happening on a big scale, the Barnett Shale of Fort Worth, Texas.  Now with about 14,000 gas wells in this region, “residents have complained for years of contaminated water, poor air quality, and unexplained health problems such as headaches, dizziness, blackouts, and muscle contractions” (Bank 65).  In some towns drilling is set up within one mile of schools where children are suffering with chronic nosebleeds, dizziness, and nausea (Bank 65).  The PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center reports that in Pennsylvania more than 3,000 gas fracking wells were within two miles of 320 day care centers, 67 schools, and nine hospitals. 
The Marcellus Shale
     It begins to feel all too close to home when I look at Ohio’s involvement with fracking.  Our fair state sits atop the massive Marcellus Shale, which also underlies parts of West Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania. This 95,000 square mile slab could supply the entire nation’s natural gas need for two years (Bank 63).  What a treasure!  And so the profit for Ohio begins like this. As Pennsylvania has been heavily drilling their portion of the Marcellus Shale, the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection  agency stopped allowing the previous means of disposing of the fracking wastewater in the rivers.  Then, the wastewater was sent to treatment plants, but eventually the agency found even this to be an ineffective means of disposal.  So what is there to do with all this chemical waste?  Send it to Ohio!  In the last six months of 2010 there were 14.8 million gallons of highly concentrated fracking injection fluid sent to the state of Ohio, who has banked almost 1 million dollars in hazardous fluid dumping fees this past year alone.  Also, since the state of New York has no facilities to treat the millions of gallons of wastewater that their wells generate, the oil companies have stated that their plan is to haul all the wastewater to Ohio just like Pennsylvania.  As far as the drilling taking place in Ohio, we could look at an example of one of many disgruntled residents, Harry Boyd, landowner in Monroe County, who by his own admission is no “green tree hugger”.  In an interview by Amy Mall, Natural Resources Defense Council staff, Mr.Boyd explains that he leased his mineral rights to an oil company and the fracking began in 2007.  Mr.Boyd stated that he happened on the company “blowing all of the used fracturing fluid…out into the air and the woods on his land”. State inspectors visited the site and told the company to stop, but they continued disposing of the fluid in the same way.  Boyd states that the fluid then flowed out to three streams which lead to the Ohio River, and he estimates that up to 500,000 gallons of fluid waste were ejected out over his land.  Harry Boyd has given up all his plans of using his land for farming or anything else.   Ohio has just passed Bill 133 that legalizes drilling on all state land, even including state parks.  Local Athens County environmental attorney and activist  Don Wirtshafter reports, “On September 6, the Forest Service and Federal Bureau of Land Management put up for bid the right to drill 3000 acres of the Wayne (National Forest), most of this directly upstream of the Athens drinking water intake”. 
Sign a petition to keep Wayne National Forest safe from fracking.

    The earth is our greatest resource, and the search for clean energy must be made with good intention, and our vision will need to look far beyond the two years that can be made from the Marcellus Shale.  With this industry of hydraulic fracturing, there may be an enormous amount of money to be made, but when our land is ruined, our people are sick, and we have no more clean water to drink, the economy will surely reflect that as well.  And if we have dug a hole that deep, there may be no way out. Hydraulic fracturing is extremely detrimental to our environment and our people; we must do everything possible to stop fracking before it is too late. Follow the situation and let our congressmen here from you by signing a petition to ban all hydraulic fracturing in the United States at this site:
     What would happen if we could all focus our energy toward a path that is truly sustainable?  A recent study for a Green State Park Initiative offers invaluable advice, "Embracing methods to conserve energy through green building design or policy changes, such as wind and solar projects, also have the added benefit of saving scarce budget dollars" (Esprit and Smith 86).  I believe this is the real solution for Ohio, our nation, and beyond.
Ohio wind power

Green Grants are available to Ohio residents and corporations for solar energy systems

Works Cited

Cook, Dave.  "Interior Secretary: 'Fracking' Can Be Safe and Responsible."  Christian Science Monitor                  5 Oct. 2011.  Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Oct. 2011.
Esprit, Cory St. and Langdon Smith.  "The Green State Parks Initiative:  Utilizing Pennsylvania State Park             as a Case Study". Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 29.3 (2011): 86-100. 
            Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Nov 2011.
Marsa, Linda.  "Fracking Nation."  Discover.  32.4 (2011): 62-70.  Academic Search Complete. Web.
            15 Oct. 2011.

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