Ground Water Contamination – Fracking Controversy Continues

By R.S. Bailey

Photo Credits: Citizenpower ; Greenfudge; Flickr / arimoore

The hydraulic fracturing of shale, or fracking, is the new boon for the worldwide petroleum industry.  It’s been taking place in Europe, the U.S., and Canada with what some consider disastrous results.   The oil companies have conveniently convinced governments to investigate these consequences on a strictly local level and to ignore findings that are not immediately in proximity to each suspect well head. 

 What is fracking you ask?   It is the extraction of natural gas and oil from shale formations, by forcing a mixture of water, usually waste water of some sort, mixed with sand and certain unspecified chemicals, into the ground to fracture the rock and release the fuel.  Fracking is currently taking place in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and is being investigated as a possibility for California.  They’ve retrieved natural gas in Great Britain and Canada using fracking.  The oil companies claim it is a basically safe procedure and point out the fact that it provides jobs, as well as significant mineral royalties for the land owners.  Local governments welcome the increase in property taxes.  

 Unfortunately it also seems to contaminate ground water.  Sixty drinking water wells in Pennsylvania and New York were tested for the presence of dissolved gas.  While most of the wells had some methane, the water taken from the wells that were closest to the gas wells had an average of 17 times the levels detected in wells further from active drilling. 

 Some may remember the TV news story earlier this year of the man in Oklahoma who was able to light a flame from the water coming out of the tap in his kitchen sink.  They were fracking that area.  Fortunately the chemicals used in fracking were not found in the water wells in New York.  The oil companies of course point to this as proof that the chemicals are safe.  They’re kind of mum on what the researchers describe as a clear correlation between drilling activity and gas seepage of contaminants underground and the evidence that pathways do exist for the migration to happen. 

 The oil companies do not accept the fact that this is happening in both New York and Oklahoma means it is happening in both places for the same reason.   They insist that studies in local areas are only valid for the local area. 

 And then there is the earthquake danger.  While fracking is known to have caused earthquakes in Colorado, the oil companies refuse to make a connection to the recent earthquakes in Oklahoma.  Earthquakes that are concluded to be associated with a group of wells in one county in Oklahoma and not considered evidence that earthquakes can be associated with a group of wells in a different county in Oklahoma. 

 A rash of earthquakes in Arkansas stopped when the state convinced the oil companies to voluntarily observe a moratorium on fracking, although they still won’t admit to a connection.  Arkansas has plans to build nuclear reactors.  The combination of the two is almost too frightening to imagine, especially due to Arkansas’ proximity to the New Madrid fault, the earthquake fault that gave the Midwest a 9+ quake a little over a hundred years ago.

 There have been 10 earthquakes in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley occurring within 10 months after fracking began.   There have never been previously recorded quakes there.  The Brits stopped fracking after a series of earthquakes shook their staid countryside and the French, who have more than their share of nuclear reactors, are enforcing a moratorium. 

 Part of the problem is with geologists.  They simply do not have enough information to determine the connection between events that take place at different points across the earth.  They haven’t been able to do sufficient measurements and have little knowledge of how seismic pressures affect faults deep under the surface of the planet

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the fracking oil companies are exploiting the lack of geological information to continue the process anywhere they can.  And they seem to have successfully convinced everyone that only the immediate areas near the wells are valid for investigation.   In Ohio only the six quakes near the wells are being studied.  But what about how the pressure spreads deep under the surface of the earth and away from the wells?  The connection of earthquakes separated by distance is a process geologists have little information on.  That does not mean it can be ignored. 

 A few months ago, the Washington monument got cracked and closed to the public after a 5+ earthquake that some are associating with fracking in West Virginia.  The oil companies claim the fact is not proven.

I wonder what they’ll say when the quakes reach Boston or New York City.

 Check the links:–valley-earthquak/,0,361074.story


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