Safely Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel, Part 2: Fracking
Proponents argue that the forces generated by fracking are insufficient to cause earthquakes, even when applied to unstable geological formations. Opponents point to the tremors and small earthquakes that have already been caused and to the potential damage to buildings. Last year, nine quakes occurred, unclamping ancient faults (geophones) near the Mahoning River in Ohio and others were reported in Arkansas and Colorado.
Proponents also argue that the drilling of wells should not affect the real estate values and should not invalidate mortgages. Opponents argue that this is a new industry, and its costs of operation will change if, in the future, businesses are required to compensate the landowners for water contamination or damage to livestock and crops. They also point to cases such as the Ohio bank warning the state's lawmakers in September 2011 that if the borrowers do not obtain the consent of the bank before signing drilling leases, they will be violating the terms of their mortgage.
Environmental and Health Concerns
In 2005, Congress passed legislation prohibiting the federal government from regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This federal legislation is still in effect; therefore, companies do not have to disclose what chemicals they are putting into the ground, although some states, such as Wyoming, do require it. It is generally not known which company is using what chemicals, but in general the following are used: heavy metals, salts (bromides, chlorides), acetone, radionuclides (strontium, barium), arsenic and volatile substances (methane, benzene, alcohol, toluene, phenol, ethylene glycol). These substances can enter the ground waters from leaking plastic transfer piping or due to damage to plastic liners of the frack ponds.
The industry claims that fracking and water contamination has never been definitely linked. Yet, in a 2011 report, MIT scientists found that "there is evidence of natural gas migration into freshwater zones in some areas, most likely as a result of substandard well completion practices by a few operators. Also, there are additional environmental challenges, particularly the effective disposal of fracture fluids.
According to the industry, the harmful effects of fracking are no worse than those of conventional drilling. Opponents point to environmental effects, including the contamination of water supplies, air pollution, migration of gases and fracturing chemicals to the surface or the potential mishandling of toxic waste. They point to cases in Pennsylvania, where farmhouses and homes were abandoned because of animals dying, people getting blisters, dizziness, nosebleeds, etc. from the toxic and carcinogenic chemicals (New York Times Magazine, Jan. 20, 2011) and the class action lawsuits by landowners in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming and Virginia (New York Times Dec. 2 and Dec. 9, 2011).
The National Academy of Sciences determined in 2011 that groundwater contains much higher concentrations of methane near fracking wells, causing potential explosion hazards. In Dimock, Penn., 13 water wells were contaminated with methane, and Cabot Oil & Gas had to compensate residents financially and construct a pipeline to bring in clean water to the town. Elsewhere the landowners had to install water purifiers or drink bottled water. In Pennsylvania, the fracking fluid at 116 of 179 deep gas wells contained materials with high levels of radiation, and in March 2010, Congress directed the EPA to examine claims of water pollution related to hydraulic fracturing.
This story originally appeared on our sister site ControlGlobal.com