Wielding a symbolic veto against fracking’s unknown downsides
Gov. Perdue has to be weary. This weariness was apparent months ago when she declared she would not seek re-election. Her vetoes are little more than symbolic with the current make up of the General Assembly and here she is with another bombshell on her desk — fracking in North Carolina.
Here’s the simple fracking definition according to the oil and gas industry: hydraulic fracturing is the benign process of injecting fluids that are primarily composed of water and sand and maybe a couple of chemicals, at high pressure, into shale or other rock formations to create cracks that then allow the natural gas to escape and be captured.
And don’t worry about what the chemicals are and how much might be used because you don’t need to know, ssshh — they’re trade secrets. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t even know what chemicals and/or how much drillers may be using because of this trade secret status — and yet they are charged with testing contaminated wells.
And because fracking is so safe, our (the people’s) legislators in Congress have seen fit to exempt this cash-strapped industry from all the unnecessary, expensive, bureaucratic red tape of adhering to the Safe Drinking Water Act.
I found this quote on energyfromshale.org intriguing, which cites an interview by Reuters news agency with John Hanger, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“It’s our experience in Pennsylvania that we have not had one case in which the fluids used to break off the gas from 5,000 to 8,000 feet underground have returned to contaminate ground water,” Hanger told a Reuter’s reporter in fall 2010.
Not so, according to series on fracking by ProPublica. Here’s what their story says: “Then, in April 2009, residents there lost their access to fresh drinking water. Wells turned fetid. Some blew up. Tap water caught fire. Now, nearly three years later — and after a string of lawsuits and state investigations has ushered Dimock (Penn.) to the forefront of the environmental debate over drilling but failed to resolve the water problem — the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in to supply drinking water itself.” (www.propublica.org/series/fracking)
According to ProPublica, the EPA also concluded that fracking was probably the cause for groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo. And while the Pavillion case is significant because it was the first to be documented by a federal agency — namely the U.S. Bureau of Land Management — there have been more than 1,000 cases of groundwater contamination documented by courts and state and local governments across Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The industry steadfastly stands by its claims that fracking can’t be blamed for any cases of groundwater contamination. The reason: fracking is not to blame unless the process itself of injecting the fluids a mile or more underground is proven to be the sole cause of contamination.
In other words, if the cause came from something else in the process — say a crack here or there in the mile or more of casing, or methane gas traveling through fracking-created underground faults, or spills of drilling fluids — well, that simply doesn’t count as fracking.
And the EPA is not exempt from blame. An earlier EPA study — where they adhered to the narrow industry focus — concluded that fracking could be safe. However all the cases of contaminated groundwater have led the EPA to conduct new studies looking at all the ancillary practices required to collect and secure the natural gas. The report is due out later this year and hopefully there will be a clearer picture of all that is entailed in fracking.
Gov. Perdue may have acted on this bill before this column gets published but I hope that, even if it’s just symbolic, she has the courage to once again lift the veto pen.