Shale Drilling & Fracking in Deep Trouble, Part 2

by S. Tom Bond on August 22, 2014

View & Discuss @ Salem Int. Univ., Carlson Hall, Room 128, 8-23-14, 5 pm

Part 2, The Many Damages Are Being Recognized

Original Article by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor and Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Turning around an ocean liner is sometimes used as an example of inertia – resistance to change. Getting the idea of the damage done by shale drilling across to people who haven’t seen it is certainly like turning around the ocean liner. But it is happening, slowly and surely. The change is important because of the increasing number of people who have been affected by shale drilling and the much larger number of people who are observing it.

This is advanced by the increasing number of media outlets that are beginning to air complaints. It is reflected in the ever increasing number of organizations that are taking on the shale drilling industry, well over 250 by my count at this point, with new ones each week. The expansion of the damages by pipeline installations to areas beyond those where drilling is economic constitutes a whole new class of complainants. The paid hacks of the industry’s public-relations arm continue, but the vast army of volunteers who spend much of their day talking to their neighbors and writing to officials and newspapers are increasingly having their effect.

Some of what is coming out is difficult to find, but it is there. Some hard facts are found in this study of data acquired by the State of Pennsylvania, not exactly a foe of the shale drilling industry. It says ” Pennsylvania state inspection records show compromised cement and/or casing integrity in 0.7–9.1% of the active oil and gas wells drilled since 2000, with a 1.6- to 2.7-fold higher risk in un-conventional wells spudded since 2009 relative to conventional well types. Hazard modeling suggests that the cumulative loss of structural integrity in wells across the state may actually be slightly higher than this, and upward of 12% for unconventional wells drilled since January 2009.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette revealed recently that the PA-DEP is about to report that oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania water supplies 209 times since the end of 2007.

Elsewhere, this: A recent investigative report of water contamination cases confirmed PA-DEP determination letters and enforcement orders indicating that at least 90 private water supplies across the state were damaged due to subsurface gas migration between 2008 and 2012. Of course, the industry denied it all. A map of water complaints in Pennsylvania is now coming out on the Internet.

It takes only a glance to recognize the systematic environmental damage from well pads and roads and pipelines, damages due to changed drainage in high rainfall events, dust, odor and noise. Then there are regular reports of spills, accidents, dumping, such as this one described in an Oklahoma newspaper that 20,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid was spilled August 1, 2014 near Hennessy, Oklahoma, at the site of an oil well being drilled in an alfalfa field.  ”The Aquifer is only 27 feet down. There is a question as to whether the soil would absorb it, or whether it would go down that far, contaminating the drinking water.”

Some situations are quite spectacular, like this one in western Pennsylvania’s Clearfield County of a vilely majestic sight: “a 75-foot-tall geyser of natural gas and drilling fluid,” according to the Inquirer. “When we arrived on scene, natural gas and frack fluid was flowing off the well pad and heading toward tributaries,” a spokesman for the PA-DEP told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Gas was shooting into the sky.”  The 16-hour-long surge “could have been ‘catastrophic’ to life and property in the area.”

There has been much discussion of the earthquakes caused by “storage wells,” misnamed because the storage is forever. They are a direct result of shale drilling, but often are placed outside the areas drilled. Most earthquakes have been of magnitude 2 or 3. The strongest was magnitude 5.7 which can result in cracks and considerable damage to older structures with some chimneys broken.

Hundreds of truck trips are required to build a well pad, drill the wells and service them – great for the folks selling diesel, but very bad for the roads since many of the loaded trucks are very heavy and most of the drilling requires travel over poorly surfaced roads. One study says “The estimated road-reconstruction costs associated with a single horizontal well range from $13,000 to $23,000. However, Pennsylvania often negotiates with drilling companies to rebuild smaller roads that are visibly damaged, so the researchers’ conservative estimate of uncompensated roadway damage is $5,000 and $10,000 per well.” Read more here.

In some cases the problem is so severe people must move from the drilling area. You have to pity especially those too poor or with such strong ties to the area they can’t. Even some in Congress are concerned about the huge volume of chemicals used. They find “14 of the country’s most active hydraulic fracturing companies had used 866 million gallons of fracking chemicals, not including water.” It would be good to know what fraction of the drilling those 14 are responsible for.

As I keep emphasizing, shale drilling is not a normal industry. It did not start small and grow by stages with thorough study at each up size move. Dozens of companies have started drilling for oil and gas. When the early research was completed at the Morgantown Energy Research Center (US-DOE), the information hung for a decade before a desperate Texas driller, George Mitchell, obtained a government subsidy to try it. About the same time Terry Engelder and Gary G. Lash made the original determination of the amount of natural gas in shale in the U. S. It is huge, but only a small part of it can be removed with the current technology, and the nation is still working down from the euphoria it caused. In short, much of the existing oil and gas industry shifted over to the new technology.

The absence of evaluation of what is going on is notable. In a health effects discussion, Aubrey Miller notes “the nation has some 52,000 unconventional gas wells,” and little research on health effects. “How do we have no data on an enterprise of this magnitude?” he asks.

The article goes on, “Nearly 200 people had gathered at the University of Pennsylvania last month for what one of the organizers, Trevor Penning, director of Penn’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, said was likely a first – a summary of the current science.

“It wasn’t pretty.” Another article about the meeting at the University of Pittsburgh site lists what the group decided. One of the most interesting was a proposal that “The panel also urges that any research conducted should use “community-based participatory research principles” so that the concerns of the many stakeholders involved in these activities can be addressed.” We think that is a great idea!

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