A paper in Baltimore is asking tough questions that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram should be asking.
But what are the risks to the environment? Amid the rush of so-called land men negotiating five- to seven-year leases, and the clamor over prospective payments, this question has largely remained unheard.
Industry representatives seeking the riches of the Marcellus Shale contend that this deposit lies so deep that the risks of contaminating groundwater are negligible. Still, the risks to water quality are real.
They even make a stab at busting the Natural Gas = Clean Energy myth.
Natural gas may be marketed as the cleaner alternative to diesel fuel (and much cleaner than coal), but the process of obtaining natural gas requires large-scale industrial machinery and a variety of toxic chemicals. Chemicals, water and sand are forced into the geologic formation under enormous pressure in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Pressure forces the natural gas to the surface. With it come millions of gallons of water and a mix of underground materials that must be stored in large sludge pits. Leakage from these sludge pits can contaminate streams and the shallow groundwater table with salts, naturally radioactive materials and man-made chemicals.
Fluids injected during fracking, some of which are proprietary and unregulated, can remain in the earth after drilling ceases. In Texas, community drinking water supplies were poisoned with benzene, xylene and other known carcinogenic compounds when the Barnett Shale was exploited using hydraulic fracturing.
The cover it all, giving readers a better picture of the over-all damage caused by drilling.
Clearing forests and land for the drilling pads, pipelines and roads will increase stormwater runoff and the sediment swept into streams and rivers. Each well pad may span 3 to 5 acres. While the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s regulations require only one drilling well per 640 acres on state-owned land, the law does not limit the concentration of drilling pads on private land. Geologists estimate the optimal concentration of wells in the range of one well for each 40 to 140 acres. Miles of dirt and gravel roads will be needed to connect drilling pads to main roads.
The reporter, who just happens to be a scientist, even mentions the regulatory agencies and that oil and gas is exempt from the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
One of the greatest uncertainties is the capacity of state regulatory institutions to adequately protect landowners and public water supplies. The agencies are notoriously underfunded and understaffed, and they face the inexorable increase in regulatory burden as exploration and drilling progress. In addition, the technologies and equipment used to obtain natural gas from such deep deposits as the Marcellus are largely unregulated by the federal Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
Great bottom line!
Unless state regulatory agencies match the growth in exploration and drilling with increased numbers of regulators and increased fines when companies fail to protect the environment, the march of energy companies into the Marcellus Shale could overwhelm existing protections to water and air quality.
The Star-Telegram needs to anti up.