Monday, June 28, 2010
Let's Talk Fracking
As the Gulf catastrophe plays on, there is - if you can believe it - a slower-moving, much farther-reaching calamity emerging.
It is being caused by something called hydrofracturing, a process that uses a slurry of sand and toxic chemicals propelled at high pressure against layers of shale that hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas under them. Called "fracking" for short, it is in use and growing in rural West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The 2005 Energy Policy Act, a direct outgrowth of the secret Cheney energy cabal, exempts hydraulic fracturing from federal water laws and relies on states to monitor and restrict water pollution. West Virginia and Pennsylvania have largely failed in efforts to stop the process. New York State has largely succeeded - so far.
The material polluting ground water and nearby streams is called "leakoff."
Aside from the actual toxics used in the process, fracking releases huge amounts of methane that finds its way into the water supply as do unwanted large concentrations of normally harmless elements such as iron and aluminum.
Already wells in central Pennsylvania have been closed and the drilling and gas companies have begun trucking in potable water by tanker truck to the affected areas.
Reports of people passing out during their morning showers and developing lesions on their skin have become too pervasive and persistent to ignore.
Most ominously for those in the Northeast, this Pennsylvania drilling is going on in the Delaware River watershed. The Delaware is one of the most pristine rivers in the United States, despite its proximity to the large population centers of metro New York and Philadelphia.
More drilling has been planned or been proposed much closer to New York City's main water supply.
According to a report in Vanity Fair:
"Volatile organic compounds (carbon-based gaseous substances with a variety of detrimental health effects) and other dangerous chemicals are burned off directly into the air during this on-site compression [liquefaction] process. Meanwhile, the returned fracking fluid, now called waste water, is either trucked off or stored in large, open-air, tarp-lined pits on site, where it is allowed to evaporate. The other portion of the fluid remains deep underground—no one really knows what happens to it."
Each well that is opened requires between 5 and 8 million gallons of water to operate. This is the equivalent of 650,000 5-minute showers. (It has to be trucked in, requiring 800 to 1,200 round trips by heavy trucks to each site. New York has forbidden the use of municipal water for this purpose, so if fracking ever goes ahead in the state it will require even longer-distance trucking tactics.) And what goes into the ground must come out, somewhere, sometime. In the case of fracking 1/3rd of the water used is returned as polluted waste water.
“There has never been any evidence of fracking ever causing direct contamination of fresh groundwater in Pennsylvania or anywhere else,” said Scott Perry, another Oil and Gas Management official, as recently as April 2010.