Monday, June 11, 2012

List of fracking chemicals ought to be made public

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post had their “Deep Throat” source who pointed them in the right direction during their investigation into the Watergate break-in, which was part of an “elaborate plot” – the Post’s term – to bug the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.

Ultimately and with some thanks to “Deep Throat,” the “Woodstein” probe resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

So, despite my personal aversion to using off-the-record material or keeping whistleblowers anonymous, I’m going to make an exception and quote from a source who has expertise and hands-on knowledge of science and geology and who seems to understand the why of the risks of the hydraulic fracking process.

The danger in fracking is primarily to potable, underground water supplies, which lie on top of the rock formations that hold the gas and oil, which are collected after chemical-laced water is injected into the well.

The little picture – whether you’re for or against fracking in Ohio – is that Senate Bill 315, which is presumed to update Ohio’s Energy and Natural Resources laws, allows drillers to keep the list of those chemicals to themselves because of proprietary concerns.

Now, I’d like to see Ohio contribute to our country’s ability to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I’d like jobs created in our area that aren’t connected to retail outlets or fast food restaurants. I’d like this part of the state to enjoy some prosperity the likes of which it has never seen.

That’s all big picture stuff. It’s that little picture that bothers me.
Why keep the list of chemicals secret? What public good can come from keeping the chemical list secret?

My source – I’ll call him “Big Injun” in honor of the large underground water reservoir that supplies drinking water to thousands in our area – is concerned about the little picture, too. And he implies those “crazy” environmentalists worried about our water supply aren’t so crazy.

Big Injun provided me a generalized geographic profile of the various subterranean rock and stone formations in East Central Ohio. The graphic, by the Division of Mineral Resources of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, shows a prototype method of triple casing a Utica shale well.

“As shown, the innermost casing passes through the Clinton sandstone and is embedded in the shale below,” Big Injun said. “This is good, but if there are faults or old wells acting as conduits, the movement of oil, gas or fracturing fluids could cause potable ground water to be contaminated by the upward movement of fluids during fracking and later by gas.”

The standard refrain of the ODNR is that the chemicals represent less than 1 percent of the fracking water.

“Depending upon the chemical, drinking water standards are written in terms of parts per million, not percentages which are 1 part per 100 (or 10,000 times what the limit should be),” Big Injun continued. “We need to request that the (state) factually disclose the chemicals in terms of the PPM limit of the chemicals allowed for drinking water.

“In summary, our water supplies could be in extreme peril from the unknowns that are being released into our environment through the fracking process.

“Extreme thoroughness in the consideration of SB 315 should be undertaken to ensure that all caveats and exceptions are understood and vetted. Communications to the public regarding the use of any chemicals should be made and thoroughly understood by all of those impacted.

“The water supplies within rural areas are most at risk, where the potential introduction of toxins with loose regulations could adversely affect us, our livestock and future generations.”

Big Injun said that Ohio has more than 274,000 existing wells of which 64,000 are currently producing oil and/or gas.

“Eastern Ohio looks like a pincushion,” he said. “That leaves 210,000 wells either abandoned or closed. Many of these are uncased or marginally plugged.
“During World War II, many casings were pulled from non-producing wells because steel was in short supply. Stories are told that plugging was often done haphazardly. Further, many of these older wells are not accurately recorded as to exact location and plugging procedure.”

By the time you read this, it’s possible that S.B. 315 will be signed into law. That would be a shame. It would also underscore why so many members of the public have such contempt for government.

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