Dan, one big piece you're missing, and people often miss, is the raw materials and supplier end of the environmental impacts. Take Lafarge's cement plant in Whitehall, PA. The plant supplies cement for well casings, is situated next to a residential community, and burns tires as a fuel to fire the cement kiln. It emits over three tons of benzene and a thousand tons of carbon monoxide a year into the air every year. Burning tires also emits dioxin, the most cancerous chemical known to science, but the PA DEP doesn't track that, so I can't give you numbers.
Every frack job requires chemical manufacturing to supply the frack fluid. "Cancer valleys" like the Ohio River valley downstream from Pittsburgh, Charleston WV, and Louisiana have a long running reputation of cancer clusters.
Every inch of pipe and every rig requires steel. Steel requires coke. Older coke plants, like the one in Clairton PA, have not been retrofitted to minimize emissions (benzene is one) and cause cancer clusters. Clairton has one of the top five cancer rates in the country. The United Steelworkers have long campained to clean up the coke facility there, but US Steel doesn't care about their workers and their families living nearby (no surprises).
Then there's the issue of wet gas supplying petrochemical plants like the Godzilla Shell ethane cracker plant sited for Beaver County in SW PA. The cracker will not only use dangerous chemicals itself, but will supply ethylene to plastics manufacturers which have a history of migrating toward crackers and creating cancer clusters in their wake.
I also want to point out the terrible record well pad and pipeline contstruction companies have abiding by erosion and sediment control regulations. The number one pollutant in creeks and streams in Pennsylvania is silt and soil runoff. It diminishes the quality of our trout streams, the business of our boat liveries, and the pristine scenic character of our rural areas (which impacts local tourism and property values, which isn't environmental, but contributes to my argument that this industry is ridiculous).
Then there's the issue of siting water withdrawals. The federal Susquehanna River Basin Commission, for example, which includes President Obama, and the governors of PA, MD, and NY just permitted at least 34 gas industry-related water withdrawals for up to 3 million gallons a day from the basin, on top of what they've approved for years prior. There are many problems with this, the most obvious and tragic is the displacement of people who live along the river basin. Here's our latest refugee story from Pennsylvania: http://www.sungazette.com/page/content.detail/id/575944/32-unit-village-no-more.html?nav=5011
The other problem with water withdrawals is their drawing down of the Susquehanna during drought periods (which we're bound to have this spring and summer due to the warm winter). Last year during the Susquehanna's floods, the Army Corps of Engineers did not empty the flood-control reservoirs during the drought season because they were preparing for a drought that is magnified by the scale of gas drilling-related water withdrawals, not expecting the hurricane and tropical storm.
Water withdrawals local impacts on streams can warm the streams as they get shallow, depleting habitat for cold-water native trout.
Also, I'll put the issue of open air containment of wastewater from fracking. If you're a duck and you see a frack pit, you don't know it's a frack pit until you land in it. If you're a deer, and you smell the salty brine of the frack pit, you might take a drink and either fall in the pit or be poisoned. The problem with game animals and waterfowl consuming carcinogenic waste during periods where they're storing fat for the winter, for me, is HUGE because I am a sportsman and I eat those animals and fat stores carcinogens more efficiently.
Now the industry will tell you that they're recycling frack water now. That may be true, but does a layperson understand that process? I thought it was a move in the right direction until I looked into the Williamsport PA facility. It works like this: frack water is trucked to the "recycling facility", the facility removes the solids, stores the waste in tanks, and the company comes to pick it up to use again later. Well, you might ask, upon further investigation, what happens to the solids? The answer? They're turned into "frack cakes" and trucked to a landfill. Landfill effluent, or runoff, is a HUGE problem in PA, because we accept so much trash from other states. So you're putting concentrated toxic solids into the landfill, it gets wet with rain and other juices, then is treated at the onsite plant (which mostly just dilutes), and sent on its way downstream. On top of all that, these "recycling facilities" are vying for permits from PA DEP to discharge into the rivers when there's a surplus of frack water, the exact problem they are supposed to be preventing.
Then there's the drill cuttings. Landfills like the Keystone Landfill in Dunmore, PA, next to Scranton, run by mafioso Louis DeNaples who magically escaped 35 years in prison following a grand jury investigation for misleading PA regulators about his mob connections while opening the Mt. Airy casino, accept up to 1,000 tons a day of drill cuttings from Marcellus drillers. The cuttings include radioactive compounds like Radium 226 that occur within the strata they're drilling into. The waste water from fracking is awash in this radioactive materials as well, and of course we discussed what happens to it in the last paragraph.
With the biggest corporations in the world (oil and gas), the federal government, our state governments, and even the mafia supporting and propping up the drilling, I don't see how anyone who isn't being paid off can think shale development can or will be done safely.
If you think about the entire natural gas industry and it's cumulative effcts, it's hard not to wonder 'why the hell aren't we investing that trillion dollars into alternatives?' and ditching drilling.
Why is our society putting all this investment into a temporary source of energy that will cause so much destruction? The answer, my friend, is a billion cubic feet of pennies to be made.
Posted Mar 19, 2012