- Environmental Health -

Deep Wells of Concern

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One of my editorial tasks at Experience Life is to find and review links to share on the RevolutionaryAct.com social media outlets. Most of the stuff I find is pretty dull, poorly written, we’ve already covered it or it’s not quite the right fit for our informed healthy revolutionaries. Often I find things that make… Read more »

One of my editorial tasks at Experience Life is to find and review links to share on the RevolutionaryAct.com social media outlets. Most of the stuff I find is pretty dull, poorly written, we’ve already covered it or it’s not quite the right fit for our informed healthy revolutionaries.

Often I find things that make me laugh, shake my head in disgust or elicit a shoulder shrug. Every once in a while I find a story that keeps me pondering for days or even weeks. An example of this would be an article from Grist that came across my Twitter feed. The article discusses the release of a coloring book about natural gas directed toward children.

Having lived out West for many years, I am very familiar with the debate over the safety of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas and have seen and smelled drill sites. Vast tracts of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas have been mined for natural gas. More recently, gas companies are mining in Pennsylvania.

While the coloring book’s hero, “Terry the Fracosaurus,” may look friendly, the process of fracking is certainly not. “Terry” explains to kids that the drilled area “is reclaimed and returned to the way it was” before the well was drilled. Back in reality, the situation is different and there are many people deeply concerned about the environmental and economic impacts of natural gas drilling.

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One concern is habitat and species disturbance, runoff and erosion, which occur from building roads, and the presence of drill rigs, water tanks and large trucks needed to create and run a drill site. A recent case study showed that wastewater that was legally spread over an area of West Virginia forest killed ground vegetation and trees.

Another concern is water, soil and air safety. Since water and chemical agents are used in the fracking process, the water becomes contaminated. Keep in mind that only the gas companies know what’s really in their chemical cocktail thanks to what’s known as the “Halliburton Loophole.” This loophole to the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act exempts gas companies from disclosing the exact chemical mixture used in the fracking process. Some chemicals that are known to be included are diesel fuel, biocides, benzene and hydrochloric acid. Benzene has been classified as a known carcinogen.

The contaminated water must be cleaned and disposed. Often, the wastewater is trucked to water treatment facilities after all of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are evaporated off into the air. VOCs can create ground level ozone when mixed with diesel fuel from trucks, generators and other equipment used in fracking. Ozone plumes can travel great distances thereby creating air pollution.

Some companies elect to store water in pits. These open pits provide potential for further soil and water contamination. These chemicals cannot be completely eradicated from the drilled well, thus the possibility for leeching into drinking water supplies is high. Water contamination has happened in multiple places including Dimock, PA. Water has turned brown, is reported to be combustable and has made humans and animals sick.

As with other types of energy production, people that live near drilling sites are divided over fracking and its impacts. They are forced into potentially trading environmental safety for job security. Jobs that dry up once the well does.

At the end of the coloring book, “Terry” tells the kids to “have a safe day.” We might be able to get a little closer to safety if the gas industry dropped the secrecy and answered the serious questions posed by citizens, drill site communities and environmentalists instead of attempting to educate through the lines of a coloring book.

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