Plenty of Challenges with Shale Drilling & Fracking — Part 2

by S. Tom Bond on February 4, 2018

Drilling, fracking and pipelines can involve leaks, fires and explosions

Part 2. Environmental and health problems of horizontal drilling and high pressure hydraulic fracturing

Essay by S. Tom Bond, Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Everywhere the gas industry goes it makes enemies.  It ruins ground water.  The industry has turned itself inside out trying to deny it in court, often settling with people who make claims by making the victims sign non-disclosure contracts.  They can’t say the company paid them, nor how much.  Legally, it is a black hole.  No light gets out. Aquifer contamination is a long story many of our readers are familiar with. People have the same problem elsewhere it is tried.  Fracking has already poisoned much of the underground water in the Murray-Darling basin in Australia, for example.

Also the large diameter, long distance pipelines the industry wants to build to carry gas are so hated they are a big factor in politics in several states and have brought about formation of substantial groups to fight them.  Disturbance of surface water and erosion and resulting sedimentation are one aspect.  Another is the reduction of land values due to the restrictions on use after the pipelines are in place. The land owner’s looses building lots, places are opened up for trespassing, additional access roads beyond the pipeline right of way are required, loss of timber growing capacity results and more.  To add insult to injury, the land owner gets no tax reduction, and the right of way does not come back to the land when the use for gas is over.  No one has been able to explain why the gas company (more likely their heirs) should hold it FOREVER. Maybe they will put in an underground roller coaster?

It’s no secret that these pipelines will pay off for the investors even if gas flow ceases soon after they are built  –  and utility patrons will pay the cost.  No loss to investors.

A big issue coming up is the supersized drilling pads.  EQT seems to be the leader.  They are now getting permits for concrete pads for up to 30 wells, while currently using pads for just under 20 wells. But, 40 well pads are under consideration.  The justification for well pads with so any wells is to “marry the efficiencies of having one site of operations with the careful choreography of spacing the production from each well so it doesn’t overwhelm the gathering and compression infrastructure.”

Imagine what it does to the neighborhood – what chance does ground water have?  Imagine the noise, dust, runoff from a hard rain, air pollution, chemical leaks, chance of explosion, etc.  Sort of puts the pictures of early capitalism, drawn by Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg in mind doesn’t it?  See here, and here, and here.   Certainly designed from a comfortable place and with the same lack of concern for humanity and the natural world!

Then there is the medical aspect of fracking. Since it involves data and statistics, and most of us are woefully under educated in statistics, results are easily countered by efforts to confuse the research.  Asthma, particularly in the young and the old, seems reasonable considering the heavy diesel traffic and vast evaporating ponds, which not only disperse water into the air, but also volatile chemicals.  Low birth weights near the drilling platforms have been claimed in some research.  Numerous other complaints are found.

In view of the large number of chemicals involved (a hundred or more) pumped down one well or another plus some unknown number coming back up with the petroleum and percolated out of the crushed rock by temperatures typically around 180 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures of up to 700 or more times atmospheric pressure.  This just isn’t your ordinary high school or college chemistry lab stuff.  It is far from it, very specialized.  But the driller or his company don’t have to research toxicology of their process, nor is the government going to do anything to research it, because of the politics of petroleum.  The scheme is to make victims responsible for proving that drilling and fracking bring many risks, nuisances, and possible health problems.

The toxicology has some very subtle stuff involved.  The endocrine glands are ductless glands in the body.  They deliver very small amounts of hormone chemicals directly to the blood.  The most common mechanisms of toxicity are to block receptors for signaling compounds, or tying up the hormone molecules so they can’t be used.  Consequently, the so called “endocrine disrupters” need be present only in very small amounts to cause problems. So small they can hardly be measured.  But the effects can be significant (powerful).

There has been a hullabaloo about endocrine disrupters since fracking began.  When you think of the vast evaporating ponds, the thousands of truckloads of water and materials used, it is hard to think that small amounts of hormones could mess up your nice big fracking operation.  So the companies don’t do the research, and government officials, dependent on them for campaign funds, simply don’t have the stomach to face the problems.

Finally, fracking is hugely dangerous. Frank Branson, a Dallas-based plaintifff’s attorney who specializes in catastrophic workplace accidents, said oil and gas operations are inherently dangerous and many companies are lax on safety, especially as energy prices go higher.

One company had five workers killed on one rig accident recently.  Another company lost 20 workers in a five year period.  Here in West Virginia, drivers have been forced to work  over 24 hours straight.  People are becoming more aware of these costs of drilling.

People die and there are others to take their place, what’s new about that?  Why worry about those they left behind? Individual people sometimes pay with their lives while a company and their insurance company can absorb the dollars needed.

All these things add pressure on fracking as time passes by.  More and more people become convinced of the damage caused, but not previously charged to the extracting company. More and more, as time goes by, fracking looks the wrong way to go.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

S. Thomas Bond February 5, 2018 at 9:53 am

Note added.

Colorado, like Pennsylvania, does not limit comments on gas projects. The State Oil and Gas Commission is limiting comments to 3 minutes per individual, and two hours of 3 minute comments, not time enough to express anything complicated or consisting of more than one properly developed point. In a recent article, the commission’s complaint is the “heat.”

When a state agency presumes to make decisions based on public interests but is influenced primarily by the profit and pull of a privately owned corporation, unwilling to share its profit with those injured and the damage done in the form of its debris put into the atmosphere and the plastic garbage that will never rot, you can’t really say the project helps the entire population.

It resembles the way the Chinese make decisions, don’t you think.

Tom Bond



Joe Perebzak February 5, 2018 at 9:31 pm

Good article Tom, we just had a pipeline blowup here in Noble county Ohio.

People give these right a ways not knowing that these gas lines can come up out of the ground and explode.

Joe Perebzak


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