A call to action against dangerous natural gas drilling

July 3, 2010 in 2010 Fall Opinion

Millions of gallons of water are used in the hydrofracturing process. Ö It contains chemical additives found to include carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. It is also potentially radioactive. This water is now industrial waste and must be treated as such.
Hydrofracking is taking over the northeast
by Jay Sweeney, Green Party of Pennsylvania

Now more than ever, our water supply is endangered by the extraction of natural gas from shale formations. In March of 2009, the EcoAction Committee proposed, and the National Committee of Green Party of the U.S. (GPUS) adopted, Proposition 380, declaring that protecting water is a priority of the Green Party at the national, state and local level. Now Greens must take action to put a halt to dangerous natural gas practices happening across the country.

The Marcellus Shale is located beneath most of Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio, West Virginia and New York. Small areas of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia also sit above the shale, making it an Appalachian regional issue. It is named the Marcellus due to its outcropping near the town of Marcellus, New York. In Pennsylvania, it is located between 5,000 and 10,000 feet below the earthís surfaceóseveral thousand feet below the fresh water aquifer, which is around 400 feet, trapped between the shale is natural gas. The Marcellus also contains uranium, and the radioactive decay of the uranium-238 makes it a source of radioactive radon gas.

Dr. Terry Engelder, Professor of Geology at Penn State University, was the co-author of a scientific paper on the economic and geologic opportunities of the Marcellus Shale formation. He estimates there are between 160 and 525 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas in the Marcellus with about 50 tcf recoverable. This is enough to meet the nationís needs for two years.

Drilling in the Marcellus is considered unconventional and utilizes a procedure developed by Haliburton called “hydrofracturing.” The process is initiated with a series of explosions. These explosions have caused earthquakes in areas never known to experience them. Water mixed with sand and chemicals is then forced through the shale under pressure to crush the shale and release the gas. Each fracking operation requires 1 to three million gallons of water per well. Wells can be fracked several times. While only 5 percent of the fracking fluid is composed of chemicals, 50,000 gallons of chemicals are used per million gallons of water. The fracking companies claim the formula for their fluids are proprietary and refuse to release the information about the chemical content.

Millions of gallons of water are used in the hydrofracturing process. Over one half of the water remains in the ground and the rest returns to the surface. This water contains total dissolved solids (tds) that make it five times saltier than seawater. It contains chemical additives found to include carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. It is also potentially radioactive. This water is now industrial waste and must be treated as such.

However, there are few facilities available to handle this type of waste. The drilling pads contain pits where this water can be stored. It is subject to leaks, overflow from heavy rain or snowfall and exposes waterfowl and wildlife to these toxins. Currently, it goes to municipal wastewater treatment plants, which are not equipped to properly handle industrial waste. This water is being diluted with the treated water and dumped into our rivers and streams. This resulted in problems with tds in the Monongahela River in the summer of 2009. The Monongahela provides drinking water to over eight million people.

In addition, this wastewater has been dumped on roads for dust control and used in the winter to pre-treat roads prior to snowfall. Pennsylvaniaís Department of Environmental Protection permitted all of these activities.

Not only is wastewater an issue of concern, but drilling has also caused the pollution of well water. A nine square mile aquifer has been polluted in Dimock, Pennsylvania. In November of 2009, fifteen families in Dimock filed a federal lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation stating the Texas-based natural gas operator damaged their property and health while drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale. More news of well water problems has been reported as the drilling moves across the Commonwealth.

On Earth Day 2010, the Green Party of Pennsylvania participated in a statewide day of protest outside DEP offices across the Commonwealth. We were joined by a coalition of 10 other groups. We are in the process of discussing plans for further action.

This is not an issue that is specific to Pennsylvania or the Northeast. There is the Barnett Shale in Texas, the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas and the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana. Natural gas drilling is taking place in over 30 states. Colorado has suffered substantial impact on its waters from hydrofracking.

It is time to take it to the national level. The Green Party of the United States must do everything in its power to protect our water from the oil and gas industry. Our candidates must articulate this message in all of our campaigns. Our platform should include specific language protecting our water and banning hydrofracking. It is time for the GPUS to work on coalition building with other groups and organizations who share our concern for protecting our water. †It is time for action. We cannot sit idly by while our most precious life sustaining resource is depleted. Perhaps a national day of action could be planned. We canít wait until Earth Day 2011.

Jay Sweeney is a member of the Green Party of Pennsylvania. He is circulating a petition to get on the ballot for State Representative in the 111th District of Pa’s General Assembly.

Read more at JaySweeney.org.

The trailer for Gasland, a documentary on hydrofracking.
Sundance Film Festival, Special Jury Prize