Monday, February 28, 2011

Fracking in NYT

The number one emailed article at the New York Times, as of this writing, is yesterday’s blockbuster article about the dangers of hydraulic fracture, or fracking, in drilling for natural gas. The Times got a look at a lot of documents that haven’t been released, and delivers a devastating portrait of the dangers of a basically unregulated system—dangers to the environment and public health “greater than previously understood.” The article continues:

“The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.”

The Charleston Gazette also had a couple of op-eds about fracking in the Marcellus Shale region, including a subtly scientific look at the political process by S. Thomas Bond, an organic chemist and retired professor at Salem College. Here’s how it concludes:

“Marcellus wells require millions of gallons of water in the fracturing process, and environmentalists worry about it because the 20 percent ‘flowback’ has high total dissolved solids. Returning to the surface, ‘flowback’ water can carry substances, including radioactive substances, dissolved in the high temperature and high-pressure conditions at the bottom of the well.

Until some sort of law is provided and enforced a ‘wild west’ condition prevails.

The companies deny adverse effects of drilling and the lessees and the public assert damage. There is no standard. Consideration of future generations is largely ignored.
Another condition making the Marcellus a good investment is the concentration of the abundant available capital in the United States now in a few institutions. It is hard for these institutions to make direct investment because of long planning times for big projects, such as power plants, large mines, major airports, etc. And it takes forever to get the money back. Major sources of investment money are forced to disperse funds to intermediate investors, such as to smaller banks to loan for houses or smaller business. Investment in the Marcellus industry allows larger amounts to go to relatively fewer firms, ideal from the standpoint of large investing institutions.”

--Michael Hasty

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