Fracking Battles Heating Up

Jim Brown
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Every day that passes brings additional problems for the companies making a living drilling for shale gas. Each day brings us one step closer to a ban on hydraulic fracturing and a serious crimp in shale gas production.

A private consulting firm said last week it found toxic fracking chemicals in the drinking water of a Pennsylvania community. Dimrock Township, was already battling methane gas contamination in the drinking water that began after some gas wells were drilled in the area. Now an environmental engineer, Daniel Farnham, said his tests, which were verified by three different laboratories, found industrial solvents including toluene and ethylbenzene in "virtually every sample" takes from water wells in Dimrock.

Farnham has tested water from both gas companies and local residents. Despite his find he said it would be impossible to say the chemicals he found were caused by gas drilling. The fact the contamination appeared after the wells were drilled is very ominous.

The chemicals, especially ethylbenzene, may cause cancer and are among the dozens of chemicals used to hydraulically fracture shale deposits to unlock natural gas. They are also used in many industrial products from paint thinner to gasoline.

The contaminated water wells are in the Marcellus shale where 1,750 wells have been drilled and as many as 30,000 wells will be drilled.

Dimrock residents sued Cabot Oil & Gas (COG) alleging the drilling company polluted their water wells when they fractured the gas wells. Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection said defective casings on at least three of Cabot's wells allowed the methane gas to pollute the ground water. Cabot was fined $240,000 and ordered to cleanup the pollution.

On Thursday DEP said it would spend $10.5 million to provide safe water to the Dimrock community by connecting their homes to a municipal water supply in Montrose, about six miles away. The state said Cabot would eventually be forced to pay the bill.

They discarded an option of drilling new wells and piping the water in because they could not be sure the new wells would not be polluted from additional shale gas drilling. Another water expert who took part in the discussions told residents the entire aquifer might be polluted by the gas drilling. "I cannot guarantee that there is any water in the aquifer today that is clean, that will be clean next week or will be clean in six months because of the gas drilling activity and the damage to the aquifer."

One person's water well exploded on New Years Day after Cabot allowed combustible gas to escape into the groundwater. Last Tuesday families in Lenox Township, about eight miles from Dimock, sued Southwestern Energy (SWN) because their water wells had been contaminated with fracking fluids. Residents claim their water went from clear and fine to yellow with foam on the top, sediment on the bottom and an oily smell after Southwestern began fracking wells in their area.

Families in Lenox reported sick children after drinking the water.

The environmental group Riverkeeper released a report to the EPA on Wednesday summarizing more than 100 cases of contamination related to natural gas drilling. They documented more than 20 cases of polluted water in Pennsylvania and 30 cases of contamination in Colorado and Wyoming along with 10 cases of surface water pollution in the Marcellus Shale region.

Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection has logged 1,435 incidences of pollution in the Marcellus Shale in the last two years. They also noted more than 30 current investigations into gas and fluid migration that contaminated ground or surface water.

I have reported on other incidents over the last few months and the uproar over contamination from fracking is growing day by day. I seriously believe that we will see the practice either banned or seriously regulated in populated areas and this will severely curtail the amount of shale gas drilling in the Marcellus region. This will eventually migrate to other shale regions.

I believe the shale gas drillers understand what the future holds and that is why they are so desperate to sell off existing acreage to other companies in order to recover some of their investment before the shutdown arrives.

Jim Brown

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