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Monday
Mar282011

Upgrade Your Gray Matter

After waking up with an uncomfortably intense craving for a pastry, I decided to take a trip to Paris, France. I was walking the streets and looking into the countless bakeries that are scattered throughout the city. Nothing looked up-to-par in satisfying my taste buds, so I continued my walk. After hours of trekking, feeling like a disturbed and bitter herb like salt water and parsely, I gave up and sat down on a near-by park bench. Shortly after, a man dressed up like a desert Bedouin approached me and told me he had the goods I was seeking. Intrigued, I followed him to a stairway that went under the streets and into the catacombs that create a hidden world beneath Paris. We made our way through a labyrinth of skulls and tunnels and walked into a candlelit room filled with the most exotic pastries I had seen in my entire life. The man and I began talking, and I was fascinated to learn that there was a secret population of people living underground in the catacombs. They all would come to him when they needed a fix for their sweet tooth. For 35 euros, I could choose any pastry in the room. The price seemed steep but I had come too far to leave with an empty stomach. I chose something that resembeled a brioche au sucre and began eating while the man told me about the society that lives under the streets of Paris. 

When caught in the grip of the city madness, it is surprising how much can go on underneath your feet without knowing about it. Edwin J. Spears understands this and explains the consequences of the lack of knowledge in The Traveling Yeti’s first submitted Opinion/Editorial.

Have a retort? Want to debate the issue discussed below further? Send an email to me with the headline “I Know What the Frack I am Talking About” for potential publication in an upcoming issue.

 

Natural Gas: The Fracking Truth

 

With the United States in desperate need of substantial source(s) of revenue, many are looking towards the production of “clean” & alternative energy to stimulate economic growth.  Hence with an ever increasing demand for a feasible source of revenue and also independence from foreign oil, drilling companies are champing at the bit to tap into the United States newest cash cow, natural gas. But just as controversial as to what has  caused the current adverse economic status of the United States, are  the achievable option(s) currently available for helping to alleviate mounting fiscal burden(s); namely the extraction of natural gas by means of horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

 

Thanks in large part to the aggressive push by drilling companies to extract natural gas from throughout the Marcellus Shale region, and also the provocative documentary Gas Land which was released in 2010; the expansively controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing hasn’t until lately garnered the national attention it has today.  But despite this recent interest, the concept of hydraulic fracturing is not all together new.  The practice of hydrofracking, which is the injection of fluid (a mixture of water, sand, and highly toxic chemicals) under high pressure, into oil and gas wells began as early as the 1940’s, and was developed by the multinational corporation, Halliburton.  However, the method of hydrofracking currently being deployed across the United States wasn’t developed until sometime during the 1990’s. 


Although more effective than “traditional” fracking, the “new” method of fracking, also known as High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) has been found to be substantially more exorbitant with regards to environmental impact.  To be moderately specific, HVHF involves more chemicals (up to 300 times more), more toxic waste which requires proper disposal, more issues related to heavy-load truck traffic (i.e. road repair due to more trips), more fresh water being used (on average 5.6 million gallons per well), more drill cuttings requiring proper disposal, & larger areas being disturbed.  All in all, the amount of fluids used in HVHF per well, is 70 to 300 times greater than traditional fracking.


Substantial environmental impacts resulting from industrial gas drilling operations have been identified countrywide by federal and state regulators.  However this may be, - drilling operations have also had an impact on communities. Throughout each state being fracked-upon, there have been on-going quarrels over safety issues related to in state regulatory negligence, controversial construction statues, and further issues related to mineral rights and royalty issuances between land owners and drilling companies. These and other such shale related issues apply to regions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Colorado (and are in the process of expanding to other states that possess shale gas basins). 


To elaborate on the environmental impacts alluded to above these impacts include: contamination to groundwater, drinking water, surface water, air and soil and are a result of leaking underground pipelines due to the inadequate cementing and casing of wells, road construction, gas migration from new and tapped out wells, stream crossings, the inability of the average waste-water treatment plants to treat flowback and toxin-laded water, improper erosion and sediment controls, noisy and cumbersome compressor stations, toxic brine disposal, general maintenance, as well as on-sight management deficiencies prone to user error. And aside from the stated chronic effects associated with natural gas operations, natural gas operations have also been paired with a rather deadly acute effect, explosions.
So by the amount in which horizontal HVHF drilling operations in the United States have been increasing over the past 10 years or so, and with the number of permit issuances in the Marcellus Shale region for well construction on the rise as of late (despite enacted moratoriums in PA & NY); it is imperative to note that research is still on-going with regards to the cumulative effects these environmental impacts have on ecosystems and human-health alike.


According to a news release by the EPA in early February of this year, in response to wide-reaching public outcry, it was announced that the EPA is poised to conduct a comprehensive investigation of whether the practice of hydraulic fracturing risks polluting drinking water near oil and gas wells across the nation.  Under a mandate from Congress, the scope of the EPA’s investigation has been narrowed down exclusively to the impact(s) hydraulic fracturing has upon the quality of drinking water.  A draft is slated to be ready by March of 2011.  Thereafter the draft will be subject to review by the agency’s Science Advisory Board and also a public comment period.  Research results and study findings are expected to be made public by the end of 2012, with the goal of releasing a more thorough report following further research in 2014.      


With issues related to water-quality being a catalyst for concern; twin bills were introduced to congress in 2009 to control drilling and protect drinking water.  The stand-alone bills dubbed the FRAC ACT were introduced in the House by Rep. Degette D-Colo along with co-sponsors Hinchey D- N.Y. & Polis D-Colo, and in the Senate by Sen. Casey (D- Casey) & Sen. Schumer (D-N.Y.).  The aim of this proposed legislation was to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act, an act which at the federal level, oil and natural gas drilling operations became exempt from as of 2005.  According to Rep. DeGette, in her opening statement at a congressional hearing in late January of 2010, the intent of this bill is “to restore the EPA’s authority to ensure that Hydraulic fracking does not endanger drinking water under the safe drinking water act.”  As of now, the chemical “make-up” of fracking fluid is considered proprietary; meaning the chemical composition of a drilling company’s fracking fluid is considered to be a trade secret and is protected from disclosure by law. In other words, much like the concealment of ingredients in the special sauce one tastes when mowing-down a Big-Mac from McDonalds, the chemical constituents one may taste from water contaminated by fracking fluid is protected from disclosure under a legally binding obligation. 


To date no such legislation as the FRAC ACT has been passed at either the state or federal level.  The oil and gas industries exemptions pertaining to HVHF drilling, from the Safe Drinking Water Act & also the Clean Air Act are still intact.  And furthermore, since fracking fluids are still considered to be a “trade secret”, this issue will continue to hinder the ability of the EPA and other such agencies and organizations to properly study and monitor the potential environmental & health impacts which can stem from unintended exposure to fracking fluid; making it absolutely necessary for all types of chemicals to be made known to those impacted, in order for fracking fluid to be properly tested for.  Also, not only does this lack of information affect a regulator’s ability to properly evaluate, but also this lack of info dramatically reduces the chance impacted landowners have of receiving just compensation.  For example, say a landowner that lives near a natural gas drilling operation finds contaminants in her house’s source of water.  Even if a drilling company is indeed to blame for contaminating her water, not knowing which chemicals are being used in the guilty party’s fracking fluid makes the prospect of proving her case in court (a) more expensive and (b) ever-more difficult to accomplish.   


To further break it down, the 2 primary reasons the drilling industry has protected their “trade secret” up to this point, is because (1) it limits their liability in case of a lawsuit, & (2) it likely reduces the impact regulators have on operational costs (i.e. their bottom -line).  So without the full disclosure of the type of chemicals used in fracking fluids to those directly being impacted, the industry will continue to proactively utilize their immense amount of resources pertaining to media, law, & lobbying which will ultimately perpetuate their documented lack of accountability.


At this point you may be wondering what in the past has contributed to the drilling industries lack of accountability and also whether any research has been done on this matter. Well to begin to answer such questions one should look to a 2004 EPA report on fracking.  A fracking report which based off conflicting conclusions later lead to the circumstantial deterioration of 2 long standing health statues by vote of congress, these health statutes being: the Clean Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act.  


In this 2004 report, an evaluation was conducted “based on public input”, regarding whether or not the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coalbed methane (CBM) wells were “potentially” attributable to the contamination of local underground sources of drinking water (USDW).  In reference to this report’s Executive Summary, the EPA makes known that “if coalbeds are located within USDWs, then any fracturing fluids injected into coalbeds have the potential to contaminate the USDW.” The EPA then went on to report that out of the 11 basins researched “10 of the 11 basins may lie, at least in part, within USDWs.” So even with the EPA making these statements in promotion of the notion that fracking fluid is a plausible source of contamination; it was concluded within this same report, that there was no need for further study, because there were “no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells or subsequent underground movement of fracturing fluids.” Instead the EPA opted to look toward other sources of contamination to be the cause: “resource development, naturally occurring conditions, population growth, and historical well-completion or abandonment practices.”    


With that being known, the EPA did however make a stand during their 2004 investigation by taking a step towards prohibiting the use of diesel fuel in fracking fluids. Diesel fuel being a substance best used to propel cars, not for ingestion.  A substance which contains the likes of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (a compound regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act).
So on December 15, 2003, the EPA entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with three major service companies whom have combined to perform “95 percent of the hydraulic fracturing projects in the United States”.  The MOA was to signify to the regulation community, that industry would no longer use diesel fuel as a hydraulic fracturing fluid additive when injecting into USDWs.  However since then, a congressional investigation has found that oil and gas service companies have injected over 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or hydraulic fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states, between 2005 and 2009.  Furthermore, it has been found out, that no oil and gas service companies have sought- and no state and federal regulators have issued- permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing; an inaction which in it of itself is considered to be in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.


So by now you can probably tell that there are a number of fronts to guard when reacting to the multifaceted prospects brought on by Natural Gas drilling.  What also may seem evident is that more testing will be necessary in order to adequately curtail the ever increasing risk(s) of pollution caused from horizontal hydraulic fracturing; because as is, the promotion and preservation of public and environmental health is in conflict with the promotion of economic stimulus. Not only that, but there have also been state construction statutes  recently put into law that have caused communities located near natural gas operations to feel resentment. This does not need to be the case.  In order to properly address these and other related dilemmas, enforcement action is needed on the federal, state, and local level; with the main driver of “change through action” being public awareness.  Whether via phone or email, or even through social media, it is up to the public to make local lawmakers and state representatives earn their “public” pay check.  So after reading this, if you feel compelled to get the ball rolling in your area, start with your circle of acquaintances & spread the word to family and friends. 
Power to the People

 

 

Edwin J. Spears | Age 25 | Westlake, Ohio
 
In an attempt to meet the prophet, Deltron, Mr. Spears plans to cryogenic-ally freeze his body until the year 3030.

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