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Expert: “Hydrofracking sure to contaminate water”

December 18, 2011

As an environmental engineering technician…I’ve reviewed countless hydrogeologic reports and seen thousands of lab results from contaminated wells. I’m familiar with the fate and transport of contaminants in fractured media, and let me be clear: Hydraulic fracturing as it’s practiced today will contaminate our aquifers.

Not might contaminate our aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing will contaminate New York’s aquifers. If you were looking for a way to poison the drinking water supply, here in the Northeast you couldn’t find a more chillingly effective and thorough method of doing so than with hydraulic fracturing.

In the ongoing media deluge surrounding Marcellus Shale drilling, it’s relatively rare to find an argument as authoritative, compelling, and brief as this one. Writing in the Watertown Daily Times on Tuesday December 13th, Paul Hetzler bases his prediction on his experience as an environmental engineering technician with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Region 5. Each of his assertions is equally applicable to Pennsylvania and the entire Marcellus Shale region.

Mr. Hetzler makes it clear that no technology to make hydrofracturing safe has been developed:

“There’s no such thing as a perfect well seal. Occasionally sooner, often later, well seals can and do fail, period.

No confining layer is completely competent; all geologic strata leak to some extent. The fact that a less-transmissive layer lies between the drill zone and a well does not protect the well from contamination.”

Here he explains, in simple terms, why so many PA towns and townships — Dimock, Hickory, Granville Summit, Connoquenesing Township, Sugar Run, Bradford, Kingsley, to name a few — like Rifle and Silt, CO, Parker County, TX; Pavilion, WY; and more — are  experiencing severe water contamination issues so early in the fracking onslaught. Methane has migrated into water supplies in high concentrations in all these areas, along with other contaminants which hurt the ecosystem, animals, and human health.

Mr. Hetzler also punctures the safety claims made by Exxon in their famously expensive full-page ad in the Washington Post and New York Times shortly before the Delaware River Basin Commission was to vote (earlier this year) on an application for a water withdrawal for fracking by Exxon subsidiary XTO. The Exxon ads were written “as if” there was no chance of contaminants from deep drilling leaking into aquifers closer to the surface. Like its cousins, the television ads run by fracking companies, the Exxon ad fails to acknowledge that the first stage of drilling is done prior to any casing whatsoever. Industry “explanations” of fracking also avoid mention of pre-existing fractures which run in an un-mapped network extending to the surface in some places, as hydrogeologist Paul Rubin has explained.

Hetzler continues,

A drinking water well is never in “solid” rock. If it were, it would be a dry hole in the ground. As water moves through joints, fissures and bedding planes into a well, so do contaminants. In fractured media such as shale, water follows preferential pathways, moving fast and far, miles per week in some cases…

When contamination occurs—and it will occur— we will all pay for it, regardless of where we live. Proving responsibility for groundwater contamination is difficult, costly and time-consuming, and while corporate lawyers drag out proceedings for years, everyone’s taxes will pay for the subsurface investigations, the whole-house filtration systems, the unending lab analyses.

Hetzler concludes that the cost everyone will bear — not just those directly impacted — far outweigh the potential benefits:

I’d love to see hundreds more jobs created. But not if it means hundreds of thousands using well water will be at a high risk of contamination. Not if it means every New Yorker will be on the hook for the cost for cleanup and for creating alternate water supplies. If your well goes bad, neither you, nor your children, nor their children will ever be able to get safe, clean water back. That’s too high a price.

He’s describing, without mentioning them by name, exactly the reality being lived by the Dimock families who lack clean water for drinking, dishes, and showering right now. He’s also urging a real assessment of the full price tag for fracking which hasn’t hit the rest of us taxpayers yet. That’s the cumulative impact nobody talks about. Read the full article here.

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