Drinking dollars?

Image retrieved from http://ecowatch.com/2014/06/16/wyoming-fracking-water-contamination-investigation/

Pavillion, WY resident Louis Meeks’ holds up well water containing methane gas, hydrocarbons, lead and copper, according to the EPA’s test results in this 2013 photo. Photo credit: Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica

In 1990, residents of Pavillion, Wyoming first began to notice something was wrong with their water. Oil wells in backyards were causing tap water to turn black and taste like gas. Over 20 years later, in 2011, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally made the connection between fracking and groundwater contamination (Zeidel et. al, 2011). Residents in Pavillion living on sites of wells drilled by oil giant Encana complained of foul smelling and undrinkable water in 2008, spurring the EPA to begin conducting tests. The EPA drilled wells of their own in the area and discovered the water tested was highly alkaline and contained large concentrations of potassium and chloride as well as synthetic chemicals, petroleum hydrocarbons and traces of diesel fuel (Zeidel et. al, 2011). The presence of these chemicals was linked to problems with the cementing of the casing used to line the wells, thus allowing the fracturing fluid to penetrate well water supplies (Zeidel et al, 2011). As a result, residents of Pavillion have experienced neurological impairment, loss of smell and nerve pain (Lustgarten, 2011).

Spokesman of Encana Doug Hock maintains that there is low probability that fracking has led to water pollution, however hydraulic fracturing is an inherently dangerous process, posing threats to water supply at all levels of production. Fracking only one well requires enough water to fill seven olympic sized swimming pools (Deveau, 2014). The extraction phase of the process requires water to be mixed with a toxic swill of chemicals (Deveau, 2014). During the injection process, fluids can leak to other areas. Leakoff, if not controlled, causes the injected fluids to leak into drinking water aquifers (Palliser, 2012).

After injection, the internal pressure of the rock formation causes the fluid to return to the surface. (Palliser, 2012). This is called flowback, a liquid containing both the injected chemicals as well as naturally occurring materials such as hydrocarbons, brines, metals and radio nuclides (Palliser, 2012). In order to be disposed of, flowback is often injected underground, or treated and reused at wastewater treatment plants. Problems occur with each method. In Ohio, the disposal capacity is being threatened by expanding flowback from Marcellus, a major fracking development in Pennsylvania. These limitations in disposal have led to the proposal of shipping brine waste to be deposited in the Gulf Coast (Downing, 2013). Furthermore, waste treatment plants used by fracking developments to treat and reuse wastewater are not equipped to remove contaminants such as chlorides and radio nuclides before the water is returned to rivers (Palliser, 2012).

Cases such as those in Wymoing illustrate the need for further control in the process of hydraulic fracturing if operations are intended to continue. A study by an endocrinologist in the U.S reveals that 75% of the chemicals used to frack disrupt sensory organs and the respiratory gastrointestinal system (Deveau, 2014).Given these statistics, the denial of fracking as a cause of groundwater contamination by companies such as Encana is extremely irresponsible, ultimately prioritizing economic growth over human and environmental health. This blunder is sure to become an issue of devastating proportions as we eventually discover that we cannot in fact drink our dollars.

Sources and further reading:

  • Palliser, J. (2012). Fracking fury.Science Scope, 35(7), 20-24. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/927534588?accountid=13876
  • Deveau, JL. (2014). How to Fight Fracking. Alternatives Journal. Retrieved from: http://search.proquest.com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/docview/1508764319?pq-origsite=summon
  • Zeidel, M., O’Neil, L. (2011).US EPA Makes Connection Between Fracking and Water Pollution. The Oil Daily(c) 2011 Energy Intelligence Group.  http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-274587263.html
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a timeline of success

In light of the 2015 Scottish ban on fracking developments, introductions to the other members of the slowly growing frack-free society are in order:

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2010 
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2012
  • Broadview Heights, Mansfield, Oberlin and Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 2012 
  • Cantabria, Spain, in 2013
  • Hawai’i County in 2013 
  • Dallas, Texas, in 2013
  • Mora County, New Mexico in 2014
  • Beverly Hills, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Mendocino Counties, California, in 2014
  •  Denton, Texas, in 2014
  • Athens, Ohio, in 2014
  • Boulder, Colorado extends 2012 ban in 2014
  • New York State: first state to ban fracking in December 2014 
  • Fracking is also currently prohibited in GermanyNorthern IrelandFrance and Bulgaria.

http://keeptapwatersafe.org/global-bans-on-fracking/

Scotland and the path towards a fracking free future

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On January 29th, 2015, Scotland became part of a small but mighty international community, joining the list of countries and communities that have banned fracking.  Energy minister Fergus Ewing announced a moratorium on granting planning consents for fracking developments due to concerns surrounding both environmental and public health (fuelfix).

The Scottish Green Party has been campaigning against unconventional gas extraction since 2011, and it appears their voices have been heard. In a briefing article published in December, the party released a simplistic breakdown of the issues surrounding fracking in the UK. Among these are concerns for local pollution and health, as well as the risks of slowing the movement towards a low carbon economy, diverting money from renewable energy technologies. The dense population of the UK amplifies health concerns, while within a broader context of the European Union further complications arise. Due to the fixed price of gas within the EU wide market, the extraction of shale gas will have no effect on reducing gas prices, as is the motivation behind fracking in the U.S. Given the multifaceted nature of the effects of fracking, the economic benefits do not outweigh the harm (Scottish Greens).

In his speech regarding the moratorium, Ewing announced the launching of a full public consultation exploring the impacts on the environment and health. During this time, no fracking plans will be granted consent until technical work has been carried out on planning, environmental regulation and assessment of health impacts (The Herald Scotland).

The implementation of this indefinite ban is undoubtedly a vital step towards a low carbon economy and greater climate stability, however MSPs of the Scottish Green Party are not fully satisfied. Further action is urged by the Scottish Greens to ensure progress is made, including provision of funding for local authorities to develop stringent policies to handle fracking applications. A petition has been circulated calling on the UK Government to halt the granting of fracking licenses across Scotland. In addition, the Scottish Greens are urging the government to speed up planned upgrades to the national grid to allow for the implementation of renewable energy schemes. Alison Johnston, MSP of the Scottish Greens warns the moratorium falls short of a full ban, asserting that the Party will not rest until fully satisfied (Scottish Greens).

Information retrieved from:
http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/ewing-announces-fracking-ban-in-scotland.1422459054

http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/category/news/

http://fuelfix.com/blog/2015/02/02/scotland-adds-to-fracking-bans/

Scottish Greens unconventional oil and gas briefing: http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/12/Unconventional-oil-and-gas-SGP-briefing-Central-Belt.pdf