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One Sane Voice Puts Human Impacts Into the Fracking — and Cracker Plant — Picture

June 28, 2012

Shale gas extraction impacts in Pennsylvania have gone wild this week. A large above-ground methane plume discovered in Bradford County has methane concentrations so high that they are in the explosive range at ground level, before the potent greenhouse gas floats off into the atmosphere to contribute its share to worsening climate change. That same methane plume indicates that high-volume hydraulic fracturing, including the vertical drilling phase, has caused methane to spew out of control underground, through fissures, fractures, and other undergound structures which can’t be adequately accessed or measured. Read Laure Legere’s report, “Study: Airborne Methane Plume Found Near Gas Migration Site,” to learn more.

Bradford  County families like the McMickens, Spencers and Phillips, whose water inside their homes on Paradise Road has been heavily contaminated by methane since 2010 due to Chesapeake Energy fracking operations nearby, knew about that out of control problem already. Chesapeake Energy agreed last week to pay these three families $1.6 million dollars, and to buy their houses from them, having failed for two years to remediate the problem. The families found glutaraldehyde in their drinking water, and a family with three small children was evacuated from their own home in the middle of the night, with the explosive methane meter going off, alerting them to the potential for their home to blow up. They insisted on no gag order, breaking the dominant pattern in which frackers’ toxic secrets are hidden through widespread corporate use of non-disclosure clauses.

Those three aren’t the only families in Bradford County who’ve been forced to know how rampant, and how traumatizing, the explosive methane migration and other water problems due to high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, has become. So do another estimated 81 to 200 families in north-central Pennsylvania whose water had had to be replaced at one time or another by the fracking industry. Locals say that “Bradford lemonade” can now compete with “Dimock lemonade” in terms of the changes in water color, “chemical” taste, fizziness, and sediment content since the frackers came to town. But that’s not all.

A geyser that reached fifty feet at times spewed last week in Tioga County. Shell, the second-largest corporation in the world (both in terms of Shell’s overall size and in terms of its revenue) has royally fracked up, causing methane-spewing incidents a quarter mile apart, causing one water well to explode; damaging at least one hunting cabin with water overflowing under pressure, and causing a mile-wide evacuation area due to the explosion hazard.

Here is a video of the geyser spewing water and methane:

But that’s not all.

Nearby, also in Tioga County, an impoundment apparently full of toxic fracking flowback — you know, the stuff that contains radium 226 and uranium; arsenic, barium, strontium; toxic levels of salt; and all the original fracking chemicals including biocides, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins — has been leaking into the ground, and into a waterway (DEP says “potentially,” locals say definitely), apparently for weeks. The Responsible Drilling Alliance reports about that in detail here.

West of that incident, hunters and anglers are fighting against the proposed large-scale dumping of Marcellus fracking waste near the Tamarack Natural National Landmark Swamp, a “rare and unique swamp,” as reported by NPR’s Susan Phillips:

The Tama­rack is one of the state’s rare, intact, white-pine glacial swamps, full of rare and endan­gered orchids, birds, and drag­on­flies, accord­ing to James Bis­sell. Bis­sell is a botanist at the Cleve­land Museum of Nat­ural His­tory and has done exten­sive stud­ies of the Tama­rack Swamp. The swamp pro­vides the head­wa­ters for the Bro­ken­straw Creek, which feeds into the Allegheny River.

“We found plants there that haven’t been seen since 1897,” said Bissell.

Bis­sell says when he learned of the pro­posed injec­tion well, he was horrified.

“I can’t think of a more inap­pro­pri­ate place to put one,” said Bissell.

You can read about that fight, which is just beginning, since no one in the area was notified of the proposal, here. And that’s not all.

Meanwhile, a fracking truck accident in Tunkhannock yesterday provoked this response from a local woman, who posted her description on Facebook:

Now the [deleted] have really done it…..a truck carrying frackwater was clipped by a train today, not long ago, and you can’t get over the bridge heading south were rte 29 and the by-pass of rte 6 in TUNKHANNOCK, PA…..frack waste is all over the place…….BAZINGA!

And that’s not all. There’s also the ongoing furious fight over Governor Corbett’s plan to give $1.65 million in tax credits to Shell… wait a minute, isn’t that the same Shell that’s royally fracking up Tioga County right now? Yes, the same Shell. Pushback is strong, but right now it looks as if, unbelievably, the tax giveaway will go through.

Amidst this insanity, one sane voice has emerged. From Pennsylvania’s beautiful Susquehanna River basin, Ann Whitner Pinca has written an Op-Ed in yesterday’s Patriot News, challenging us all to consider the health costs of the Shell “cracker plant” which would use fracked ethane to make plastics, conventional petrochemical fertilizer, and such. Pinca here focuses on air impacts, leaving aside the impacts on water and land:

Most of us try to do our small part, but compared to the thousands of tons of [air] pollution that the natural gas industry would add to Pennsylvania’s air through new gas wells, compressor stations and at least one cracker plant, these small measures seem like rather futile efforts to keep our air safe.

Pennsylvania’s proposed cracker plant would be built with the best available technology, but even so, comparisons to similar plants indicate that emissions could be hefty. A June 2006 assessment report for a Shell cracker plant in Singapore lists expected yearly emissions of 2000 tons of nitrogen oxides and 2,250 tons of sulfur dioxide. Flaring, used to control upsets (when gas needs to be released quickly from the plant), can add large amounts of pollutants above usual levels.

With other industries expected to grow around the cracker plant, what would this mean for people breathing Pennsylvania’s air? Growing numbers of compressor stations needed to move gas through pipelines contribute to poor air quality, too. Unlike a major pollution source such as a cracker plant, most new compressor stations in Pennsylvania are issued permits as minor pollution sources, which limit each station’s annual allowed emissions of smog-forming pollutants.

But regulations allow compressor stations and well pads to be considered individually for emissions, rather than combined or aggregated, even though their pollutants enter the same air space.

compressor station_pa.JPG
A compressor station in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.

The human cost is evident in northern Pennsylvania. At a meeting in Lycoming County, one anguished father relayed the worries he has for his asthmatic son now that the clean country air his son needs to breathe will be compromised, meaning more anxious trips to the hospital emergency room.

In a nearby northern county, a woman living near natural gas facilities spoke of her asthma. Though supportive of the gas industry, she must keep a large bandanna hanging on her porch so she sees which way the wind is blowing. If it’s coming from the wrong direction, she knows she can’t risk going outside.

Read the full article, the one sane voice, here. Putting human health first should be a no-brainer, especially when the same million dollars creates at least 9.5 renewable energy jobs for every 3.7 oil and gas jobs.

Cobb and Montford, Wisconsin

Wind turbines at sunset

2 Comments
  1. Andrea permalink
    June 29, 2012 10:56 am

    Well said. Thanks for getting this information out to the public.

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