2 December 2014
Fracking in Pennsylvania
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is damaging our watersheds and for some of us, fracking sites are in our own backyards. The Environmental Protection Agency seems to have a few holes in it, as you will see in my research. First, we need to understand how fracking works. It is a means of extracting natural gas and oil that lies within a shale rock formation thousands of feet below earth’s surface. When a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and all different chemicals are injected under high pressure, into the well. With all the pressure, it causes mini earthquakes, fracturing the ground and allowing natural gas to flow more freely. These wells are in locations that were previously inaccessible, ruining our beautiful countryside and being drilled below our reservoirs and water systems. Horizontal fracking uses a mixture of up to 600 different chemicals along with water. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens and toxins including lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde. Let’s do the math; 500,000 active gas wells in the U.S, multiply that by 8 million gallons of water, multiply the 18 times a well can be fracked. That comes to 72 trillion gallons of water, 360 billion gallons of chemicals needed to run current gas wells. (dangersoffracking.com) The instances of water contamination are not unique to New York and Northern Pennsylvania. For the first time, Pennsylvania has made public 243 cases of contamination of private drinking wells from oil and gas drilling operations. The cases occurred in 22 counties, with Susquehanna, Tioga, Bradford, and Lycoming counties having the most incidences of contamination. In a few cases, one drilling operation contaminated the water of multiple wells, with water issues resulting from methane gas contamination, wells that went dry or undrinkable, and wastewater spills. The Pennsylvania DEP has been criticized for its poor record of giving information on fracking- related contamination to state residents. (thinkprogress.org) As of 2005, Pennsylvania had 11 frack water pits. Eight years later, aerial maps show that number is now 529. It is unclear how many of these sites store fresh water used for fracking, and how many store the toxic wastewater that results from oil and gas drilling operations. The Department of Environmental Protection(DEP) couldn’t provide the data to public health researchers. The researchers turned to the nonprofit data resources from SkyTruth, who have documented the ponds with the help of USDA aerial imagery and citizen scientists from around the globe. A spokesman for DEP told the Observer-Reporter that the department can’t produce a list of impoundments that include smaller wastewater storage sites because they have a different classification. The DEP sent the reporter to another nonprofit that tries to fill the state’s data and information gap, FracTracker. FracTracker says the data they get from the DEP on the location of frack ponds is “woefully incomplete.” Since state environmental regulators have no reliable knowledge of where these sites are located, volunteers from around the world studied the aerial images from 2005, 2008, 2010, and 2013. The accuracy of the data was carefully looked over by SkyTruth’s methodology, which included training on how to distinguish a frack pond from a duck pond. The organization has yet figured out how to distinguish the toxic from the non-toxic fresh water holding ponds. “We wish that the PA DEP would publish better data about this aspect of the oil and gas extraction business,” said Matt Kelso, manager of data and technology at FracTracker Alliance. Many of these impoundments are reclaimed after a period of time. For example, the 2010 maps show 581 frack water storage facilities, while in 2013, Skytruth documented 529....
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