Why their fracking business is our business

‘Fracking’ in Pennsylvania could end up poisoning Ohioans

Call this karma. A decade or more ago neighboring states were howling about Ohio’s coal-burning power plants, which were believed to be creating acid rain that was wreaking havoc in New York and other nearby states. Now the recently controversial gas well drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” threatens to pollute waters downstream from Pennsylvania natural gas wells. That could mean Ohio.

The Associated Press reports that Pennsylvania allows fracking runoff to be dumped in rivers after some treatment, but not enough treatment to filter out all the salt and toxic byproducts of the fracking process. “Some Pennsylvania waste is being trucked to Warren’s sewage plant in Northeast Ohio,” the AP reports, and other Ohio plants may be treating effluent from fracking at some point. Curiously, Ohio law requires runoff from Ohio wells to be injected into underground rock formations (in theory trapping it there in perpetuity).

Hydraulic fracturing is a relatively new technique of injecting a mixture of water mixed with chemicals and sand to shatter underground rock and release gas trapped inside. The gas rises to the surface and brings some of the brine with it.

As with other mining and well-drilling processes, there’s a fair amount of waste byproduct from fracking, and at least some of it is toxic. Even the salt, which is highly concentrated, is a problem. Not to mention carcinogenic compounds such as trihalomethanes. They just sound scary, don’t they?

If you think what happens down the road (or river) from you doesn’t affect you, think again. You could be showering, or boiling noodles, in toxic chemicals.

Pennsylvania is one of the hottest places for fracking. Much of the state sits on a bed of rock known as Marcellus shale, a type of sedimental rock that has particularly large stores of natural gas within it. A geologist in early 2008 shocked colleagues when he revised estimates that the Marcellus shale could contain as much as 500 trillion (With a “T”) cubic feet of natural gas. That’s a lotta burritos, my friends.

That Marcellus shale also runs under parts of Ohio and New York and nearly all of West Virginia. Pennsylvania says it’s tightening its regulation of the fracking, but for some folks, the damage may already be done.

They say it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission. Maybe it’s time to make the punishment more severe for doing something you know could be harmful. Like dumping polluted water into rivers that serve as sources for drinking water.

We’re told by consumer experts and so forth that drinking water out of the tap is as safe or safer than bottled water, and much cheaper to boot. Now I wonder. What’s safe?


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