Monday, May 11, 2015

Earth’s Fracking Epidemic

Fracking drilling rig  (photo: Jan Barry)

By Brian Writt

Fracking has become a well-known and often discussed issue in recent years.  Fracking or hydraulic fracking is a technique where rock is fractured by pumping pressurized liquid composed mostly of water, along with sand and some chemicals.  The fluid is injected to create cracks in deep rock formations, thus allowing natural gas, petroleum and brine to flow up pipes to the surface. 

Fracking has been around far longer than most people know.  The first experimental fracking began in 1947, and the first commercially successful fracking came in 1950.  As of 2012, 2.5 million fracking sites have been performed worldwide on oil and gas wells, according to Wikipedia.  Over one million of those jobs have been performed in the United States. 

While fracking allows us to access natural gas and oil at an extremely convenient rate, it has come with a lot of controversy.  While the economic benefits of fracking are sky high, the environmental results are devastating.  Environmentalists argue, and scientists have proven that fracking often leads to the contamination of ground water, the depletion of fresh water, the degrading of air quality, air pollution, surface pollution, and the increase of potential earthquakes.

Increases in seismic activity following the hydraulic fracturing along the faults are many times a result of the deep injection of hydraulic fracking and its “flow back,” which is the byproduct of hydraulically fractured wells.  The combination of all these dangers has brought fracking global scrutiny.  Some countries have banned fracking all together.

Fracking uses between 1.2 and 3.5 million gallons of water per well, with larger projects use up to 5 million gallons.  According to an Oxford Institute for Energy Studies report, greater volumes of water are required in Europe due to the fact that they often need to go 1.5 times deeper than the US to access the wells.

Surface water is often contaminated from fracking when spillage or improperly constructed waste pits are used.  Ground water can be contaminated if when the blasting is performed and the water/sand/chemical concoction is able to escape the rock formation, usually due to fractured wells, or when the waste is returned and it dissolves into the earth.  Less than half of the water used to blast through to fracture the formations is recovered. 

There is no secret that fracking has many dangers that put people’s lives, as well as the wellbeing of the planet, in jeopardy.  One example of that is in a small town in Louisiana, called Belle River.  A community made up of 107 households, the majority of the residents make their living on the water.  Their livelihoods are at risk at the hands of fracking, according to a news report aired on Aljazeera America.

Fracking results in an immense amount of toxic byproducts in which are taking up a ton of space, raising the question ‘what are they doing with all the waste?’  Unfortunately for the people of Belle River, their home may turn out to be a toxic waste dumping ground for the fracking companies.

“This is no place to dispose of toxic chemicals,” said Dean Wilson,  the head of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper grass-roots environmental group.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what the FAS Environmental Group has been doing as far back as the mid 1980’s.  The company retrieves the waste from fracking wells, which contains high levels of methanol, chloride, sulfates and other substances.  The waste is loaded into a truck, then is transferred onto a shuttle barge for two miles on the Intracoastal Waterway to the company’s injection well.  After it arrives there it is injected deep into the ground where it is meant to remain forever. 

FAS now wants to build a new facility across the waterway from the already existing injection well.  There they would build a pipeline underground that would connect the new facility to the injection well, which would allow waste to be moved under the waterway, eliminating the need for the shuttle barge system that they have been using.  FAS claims that ending the use of shuttle barges would cut down the risk of accidents on the water, such as a leak of toxins.

The new site, however, which would be located in a residential neighborhood, is not zoned for industrial use, causing FAS to request a local zoning commission to rezone the land.  Their request was denied.  Next they went to the Department of Natural Resources office of conservation, which regulates oil and gas drilling in Louisiana, and applied for a permit.  The decision is believed to be made sometime around the end of June. 

The residents in Belle River are furious over this proposition, and they have had many town meetings regarding the issue.  Many believe that the underground pipeline filled with fracking waste is inevitable.

“Democracy has already failed in Belle River.  In Louisiana a hearing is just a delay in action before they announce they are going to approve it,” said Russell Honore, a famous Louisiana military leader, who came into the spotlight after leading military relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

FAS has had a history of accidents regarding compromises of their waste disposal.  In 2013 an FAS manager was found guilty of allowing 380,000 gallons of industrial wastewater that contained chemicals not permitted to be dumped at the facility in Belle River. 

Guy Cormier, the president of St. Martin’s Parish, who spoke at the town hearing, stressed that although he is not anti-industry, he feels like he has to speak out to protect his community’s health and wellbeing by enforcing the zoning laws.

As fracking continues to be a booming industry in the United States more and more towns will be faced with similar dilemmas as Belle River.  There just simply is not a safe way to dispose of the wastewater that is a product of the fracking.  Along with making the earth unstable, big companies are putting those who have made homes for years in small towns, live in an area where the risk of contamination is never ending, not only putting their lives at stake, but making their homes unsellable. 

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Brian Writt is a senior at Ramapo College majoring in Communication Arts: Global Communication and Media. 

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