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Fracking Fracas

Cathy Stripe LesterHydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) may be coming to Crawford County, and residents are unsure how to assess the potential dangers of it. On the one hand you have a mixture of different scientific reports, and on the other hand you have the gas companies putting happy ads on TV showing clean, healthy-looking actors in green landscapes telling us fracking is good for us.

By “us” I’m presuming they mean good for “them,” the gas companies’ profits. That part is really, really true.

For those who haven’t already read about it, hydraulic fracturing involves forcing water (millions of gallons of local clean water) mixed with chemicals (heh, heh, but we’re not to know which chemicals) deep into the ground under high pressure. This fractures the gas-bearing strata and releases natural gas. About 20-40% of the fluids which were forced down the well return to the surface as “flowback.”

It’s hard to know what the real dangers of fracking are, because the issues are so complex. Skeptics of fracking don’t generally have access to studies giving concrete facts and figures, for two reasons. First, because the local geology in each site tends to be different. Problem in Wyoming? Different problem in New York.

Second, the fracking companies claim their chemicals are safe for the environment, but they refuse to say what those chemicals are. They claim they’re “industrial secrets” and if they let their competitors know, the competitors would use them too. One of the results of this policy is that, if someone is accidentally contaminated, even doctors can’t find out what they were contaminated with, so it’s really difficult to know how to help them. One doctor who tried to treat a gas-field worker breathed in the gases coming off his clothes and body, and barely survived.

On top of all that, the gas companies have managed to sneak through legislation that exempts them from the clean air and water acts. This is known as the “Halliburton Loophole.” (Surprise? Or not?) They were thorough about it, too. The exemptions are included in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. One has to ask, IF the chemicals are so safe, WHY do they need exemption from those Acts which are supposed to protect the public? That is, YOU. (And me.)

I found a website with articles by a number of doctors which was sort of an eye-opener. http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/environmental-health-policy-institute/hydraulic-fracking.html

Some of the fracking chemicals, such as benzene, butoxyethanol, formaldehyde, toluene and methanol, are known to cause cancer. Known, not just “suspected.” In addition other chemicals disrupt the body’s natural hormones. Some affect reproduction or childhood development. We want natural gas for our children’s future, yeah? Er …

Along with the gas, heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic are released. Plus radioactive materials such as radon, uranium, and strontium.

Gas companies claim that leakages are “rare” but there have been many thousands of recorded incidents. Think. If the pressure is great enough to fracture rock, what are the chances of the concrete well casing never cracking?

And even if there isn’t any “leakage,” don’t forget that “flowback” is part of the drilling process. So 20-40% of those chemicals come back to the surface, and at the present, there seems no safe way to decontaminate the flowback fluids. Companies often store them in open pools (real safe, eh?) or reuse them in other wells. Or let them “accidentally” flow into nearby streams when nobody’s looking. Or send them to local sewage plants, which are totally unequipped to deal with them.

The companies claim the gas-bearing shale is far, far below the water tables. That’s true. However, this means that in order to get to the shale strata, they have to go spang through the middle of the aquifer. If the casing cracks in the region of the aquifer, or near the surface, it’s hello arsenic, hello butoxyethanol, etc., etc. And good-bye clean pure water.

One of the studies looked at wildlife and farm stock near fracking sites. Animals near wells are often unwell, and in addition they have reproductive problems: abortions, stillbirths and “failure to breed.”

Unfortunately, animals exposed to contaminants are not required to be tested. So meat from them can go straight onto your table. Animals in too poor condition to be used for human food are made into animal feed, and get fed to your pets, or to pigs and chickens. (Mom, why are my eggs glowing like that …?)

So, when you bag a deer or a turkey which might have wandered through an area where there’s fracking, can you be sure it hasn’t drunk water containing lead, toluene, and so on? And the next time you go fishing, remember that fish pick up minute amounts of contaminants and store it in their bodies.

Tourism is big in Michigan – we have wonderful places to go and great things to do. But  how long will we be able to use the phrase “Pure Michigan” if we don’t introduce regulation to fracking?

  • Bobdisqus
    • Taylor

      How is this fear mongering? She simply stated facts. I just so happens that those facts are ugly. I can think of plenty of pejoratives for ignoring ugly facts because it’s lucrative.

      • Bobdisqus

        Taylor are you daft? She implies our children will have cancer and our food will be poisoned if we allow fracking. I say again fear mongering.

        • Guest

          Right at the moment we’re getting ONE side of the argument, from the gas companies’ TV ads, telling us how clean and cheap fracking is. We know that isn’t the whole story. As I said, the other side of the story is a lot more complicated, and nowhere hear as clean as the pretty pictures on TV. Someone’s gotta point it out. And as I said to John, I don’t want to outlaw natural gas, just regulate it. Since you’ve signed a lease for fracking on your property, don’t you even want to KNOW what chemicals the gas companies are going to be using? How close to your home is it, anyway? Yeah, I’d be worried, or at least concerned. If concern equals fear, so be it.

          • Bobdisqus

            CSL, this months nat geo hardly a shill for the oil and gas industry looks at the ND oil boom. they don’t completely avoid the sensationalism, but on the whole it is a more balanced piece.

        • CathyStripeLester

          Right at the moment we’re getting ONE side of the argument, from the gas companies’ TV ads, telling us how clean and cheap fracking is. We know that isn’t the whole story. As I said, the other side of the story is a lot more complicated, and nowhere near as clean as the pretty pictures on TV. Someone’s gotta point it out. And as I said to John, I don’t want to outlaw natural gas, just regulate it. Since you’ve signed a lease for fracking on your property, don’t you even want to KNOW what chemicals the gas companies are going to be using? How close to your home is it, anyway? Yeah, I’d be worried, or at least concerned. If concern equals fear, so be it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.corcoran.9465 John Corcoran

    So…what you are saying is that the OTHER FORMS of energy, like coal, for instance, or free from risk? How about nuclear…? What form of energy out there is free from risk? Until you answer that question I’d say Nat. Gas is a reasonable-get us through the next 100 years-option. Provided, however, that the gas producers are held to account and regulated. There is no energy magic bullet to date. Would I love to see wind and solar…? You bet. However, our economy will not crank over to “green energy” overnight. The good folks in Benzie County have made their opinions on wind very clear…NOT IN MY BACK YARD! Fine…that’s their right. But please, don’t for a minute think that Nat. Gas is not a good answer. Our President does not agree with you and I’m in agreement with President Obama…Natural Gas is a very good bridge to the next big thing in terms of how we light up this computer I’m typing on right now…or my flat screen TV…or heating the house…

    • CathyStripeLester

      Good points, John. A friend of mine said, how about we collect dried dung and burn that, like the plains Indians used to? :) )

      I myself have natural gas in my home. I agree it’s better than coal. But what gets me is that fracking is so unregulated. I think the first thing we should do is breathe fire at our congress critters to rescind the “Halliburton Loophole.” That way we can at least be confident that the companies are trying to keep our drinking water safe, and they can be held accountable if they’re careless. Then make it a matter of public record just which chemicals are being forced into the ground.

      I have to ask, why did big gas NEED a loophole unless they knew in advance that their methods, if unregulated, would produce significant pollution? This stinks of corruption.

      I agree, our economy won’t crank over to “green energy” overnight. But researchers are making giant strides in those areas. Instead of subsidies to the oil and gas companies, we should be putting that money into alternative energy research and development. And before anybody starts bleating about Solyndra, remember that in new fields, there are bound to be false starts. Right now renewable energy unit costs are coming down at a surprisingly fast rate. So some of that green development is bearing fruit. I say, keep it up.

  • Bobdisqus

    8th paragraph and the second and third from the end. Livestock anywhere may have health issues. My profit was enough to take the family out to diner once. If they drill and find something it might

    • Bobdisqus

      pay enough to do that again once a year.

  • CathyStripeLester

    What has changed is the introduction of newer technologies which bring an increased risk of pollution. AND the fact that the oil and gas companies have, with the collusion of Dick Cheney, gotten legislation in place (The Halliburton Loophole) which basically gives them free rein to pollute as much as they want.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.mccombs.52 John McCombs

      The sky is falling !!! The technologies used are at least 30 years old and some how Louisiana and Texas still has living people…..they are not all dead….explain that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.mccombs.52 John McCombs

    As an engineer, prior to retiring, I supervised frac jobs. If the thousands of Antrim Shale wells fraced in Michigan were in a small way as bad for the envirionment as the opponents would have us believe, we would all be dead by now.

    • jeff4

      If fracking IS the problem this will help solve it. http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2013/01/22/scientists-close-to-testing-tracers-for-drilling-fluid/ Is the gas/oil business willing to allow these nano-tracers?? If it is as they say, and fracking does NOT pollute then they should be willing to allow this!

    • CathyStripeLester

      John, thanks for your input. May I ask when you retired? That is, did you supervise the old-style fracked wells, or the newer horizontal slickwater fracturing, which was introduced in 1998, and which the environmentalists claim is much more potentially dangerous?

      And could you also tell us how you dealt with the “flowback” liquids? Thanks.

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