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FRACKING

By Daryl Davis

Fracking - high-volume hydraulic fracturing of deep underground rock formation has finally reached the ears of the mass media, generating coverage and conflicting “facts”. Recently it has been the subject of a CSI episode, a 60-minutes schmooze job fronted by the CEO of Chesapeake Energy, and an almost daily stream of headlines revealing more environmental contaminations and civic responses to industry incursions into their communities. It has been challenging to keep up with the news as it unfolds. Environmental and community groups have documented volumes of evidence including several films (especially Gasland) showing the ecological destruction resulting from this unregulated practice. i Ohio’s ecological systems are already impacted by suburban sprawl, factory farming, fluctuating rainfall and the multitude of accidental contaminations attending the imperative for economic growth. It is impossible to overstate the consequences to the biosphere from the transportation of the toxins by air and water. ii Fracking commonly refers to horizontal well drilling for natural gas from Marcellus shale. The Marcellus shale is located Page | 1

approximately 5,000 to 8,000 feet below southern New York, most of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and northeast Ohio. It is one of several black shale formations stretching across the country and through the western states where fracking procedures were developed. The Marcellus is believed to contain trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. The drilling and extraction industry has been shameless in its hyperbole pronouncing the end of the energy crisis. Its existence is not news but gas contained in this formation was previously considered too expensive to extract. It still would be if the environmental protections had not been removed to exempt gas and oil drilling from the costs associated with environmentally responsible practices. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, famous for fossil fuel subsidies and secret industry lobbyist participation, exempted oil and gas extraction activities from all provisions in


the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) that would regulate fluids used in hydraulic fracturing. EPA oversight was replaced by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture under categorical exclusions, less rigorous than Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and without public comment. (Sound familiar? Categorical exclusion is what enabled BP to avoid normal regulatory oversight and provided the perfect setting for the Gulf Oil Explosion. Dick Cheney may have created it but Barack Obama voted for it.)

playground equipment or parking lot runoff. Known as the Halliburton Loophole, it allows gas companies to conceal the chemicals in their fracking formulas for proprietary reasons. On November 9, 2010 the EPA subpoenaed Halliburton for its chemical formula. Halliburton is stonewalling the EPA for this information, claiming that they need 5 years to produce 50,000 spreadsheets. Eight other drilling companies have agreed to supply the EPA with their information. iii New York has suspended fracturing until it can draft rules to protect the affected watersheds but the state legislature has not acted to produce legislation. Pennsylvania has regulations although it is still struggling with enforcement. On November 16 the city of Pittsburgh passed an ordinance that bans natural gas drilling in the city where gas-drilling corporations own leases some of which include rights under public parks and cemeteries.

The public may not comment on proposed drilling permit applications. Conversely, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires that if contamination occurs the public, not the EPA nor any other regulatory entity, must prove that gas drilling activity poses a threat, thus, requiring a full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. Citizens and civic organizations can collect toxic samples and have them analyzed at their own expense only to be stopped at the stonewall of secrecy that requires citizens to prove that they came from the fracking process and not out of thin air, or Page | 2

Ohio’s laws governing oil and gas drilling are notoriously lax, among the worst in the country. In response to a controversial well proposed for Mayfield Village Senate Bill 165 was enacted on July 1, 2010. It provides for a rules committee to write the regulations for a new law. iv Like all measures enacted in other states it will take sustained effort and public pressure to make this model an effective environmental control over fracking in Ohio. Fracking is not limited to the very deep horizontal well drilling or to the Marcellus. It is taking place in various sandstone formations at much more modest depths of


3 – 4,000 feet, including the Clinton formation in Northeast Ohio. Fracking at these depths involves “only” about 250,000 gallons of frack fluid on a given well. Fracking fluid cannot be reused and each well is usually fractured more than once over its productive life to maintain the gas flow. The waste stream is complicated but here is a simplified description: •

Drilling mud is used to cool and power the drill producing rock cuttings that are stored temporarily on-site in a lined pit before disposal. Some of the mud has a potassium chloride/polymer base with mineral oil for a lubricant and the rock cuttings in any black shale deposit are known to contain radioactive materials. Pits sometimes overflow and the linings can leak. Fracking fluids contain sand to keep the fractured rock open to facilitate gas flow, jelling agents to keep the sand suspended in the water, biocides to kill the bacteria that grow on the jelling agents, and numerous other agents and known hazardous chemicals including diesel fuel, gluteraldehyde, hydrochloric acid, methanol, sodium acrylate, and ethylene glycol. These are not all the chemicals and not all of these chemicals are used together or on every well. Approximately 30% of the fracking fluid flows back to the surface where it has to be recovered and sequestered. But as much as 20 – 40% of it remains underground. I have not been able to find an

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accounting for the remaining 30 to 50%. •

After the drilling is completed the well produces a by-product of brine. One component of the brine is Radium 226 that has been found at elevated levels in 80% of the conventional vertical wells tested in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Radon produced from decaying Radium 226 causes 15,000 to 22,000 deaths a year from lung cancer

Municipalities are being urged to allow drilling on public property.v In response to increasing pressure on property owners to sign leases in Stark County the Plain Township Trustees called a meeting for December 14, 2010 to explore the possibility of a moratorium on fracking. Exaggerated claims of revenue are touted at community meetings, some of which may not be open to the public or the media. It is of the utmost importance that citizens and community organizations become informed. vi

You may be asked to sign a lease by a gas company representative or landman. Here is advice from Northeast Ohio Gas


Accountability Project (NEOGAP) vii (http://neogap.org/). •

Don’t sign anything! Be especially observant if you receive a certified letter or a letter that says if you don’t sign your property will be subject to “mandatory pooling” with your neighbors who may have signed or are also being told that their neighbors have agreed and they will be forced into the pool.

Meet with your neighbors and elected officials; ask what they are being told. Research the record of the gas company or the landmen who have contacted you or are operating in your area www.landmanreportcard.com

Work with your neighbors making sure you and they are all involved in any decisions together. A horizontal well will have health effects for a 3000 ft. radius from the site.

And more advice from Daryl can be found at FOWL.ORG where we have posted this article complete with citations and hyperlinks to source materials. •

Learn how a well is drilled and what can go wrong: http://www.wvsoro.org/resources/how_a_well_is_drilled/slide_01.html

Read the Open letter to Communities Working to Stop Fracking http://www.marcellusprotest.org/celdf-open-letter

Support the Frac Act: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/676/t/572/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=1 203

For a report on the death of 38 mile Dunkard Creek ecosystem caused by illegal dumping: http://blogs.discovery.com/animal_news/2009/10/hydraulic-fracturing-or-fracking-may-killanimals.html Another major spill reported on November 22, 2010 http://www.desmogblog.com/exxon-fracking-fluid-spill-pennsylvania-dumps-13000-gallonsnearby-waterways For a map of the Marcellus shale and the depths of its occurrence: http://www.catskillmountainkeeper.org/node/290

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Sources for this article: One of these documentary films, Gasland, by Josh Fox has been shown at many places around northeast Ohio and on TV. Debra Anderson’s Emmy Award winner “Split Estate” takes its title from the circumstance of property owners who do not own the mineral rights under their land. i

For an overview of the ways wildlife can be harmed see: http://www.liwatersentinels.org/index.php?option=com_myblog&show=Fracing-chemicalsand-wildlife-warning-disturbing-images.html&Itemid=47 ii

Announcement of Halliburton subpoena: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-20022247-10391695.html iii

For information on SB 165 and a link to the bill itself: http://www.neogap.org/take-action.php iv

Coming soon (possibly) to a Metro park near you: http://blog.cleveland.com/newssun/2009/11/berea_mulls_gas_well_on_barret.html v

vi

Hydraulic Fracturing 101: http://www.earthworksaction.org/FracingDetails.cfm

viiMy

primary source for this article and the leading citizens’ organization monitoring gas well drilling in Northeast Ohio: http://www.neogap.org

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Fracking