Fracked up

So whose bright idea was it to dump waste water from a hydraulic fracturing well onto forested land?

Did it not occur to anyone that the salt content of that waste water would kill most if not all vegetation in the forest? Anybody? Nobody? Bueller?

A bit of background: Waste water from a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) natural gas well was spread “legally,” says the New York Times, in an area of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. Two years later, more than half the trees are dead, as well as most other vegetation.  About 75,000 gallons were spread over an area less than a half-acre in size over the course of two days in June 2008.

And we’re surprised that it killed virtually everything there? I have a memo. It says that salty water will kill most non-marine plant life. I’ve seen it work.

Were there no biologists or botanists available to offer some advice (“Uh, don’t do that”) ? Apparently a soil scientist, The study’s author, Mary Beth Adams, was watching this. Apparently this was done in the name of science. Or something like that. Maybe it’s the headline that annoys me. It’s a “No sh!t, Sherlock” moment: “Fracking Water Killed Trees, Study Finds.”

But the salt water is not even the half of it.

“Although the exact composition of the fluids was not disclosed by the companies that manufactured them because they consider that information proprietary, her study noted, the main constituents appeared to be sodium and calcium chlorides because of their high concentrations on the surface soil.” So, um, we can tell you there’s a lot of salt in that water but we’re not going to tell you what else could be seeping into the drinking water supply because, well, it’s a secret.


We may not know exactly what’s going into those wells, here’s what’s coming out: Benzene. Methane gas contaminating drinking water. Chromium, arsenic and lead in numbers that exceed EPA limits. In some instances, people who live and farm with well water near fracking wells have reported overpowering petroleum odors in the water, or a slimy texture, and some house explosions have been blamed on methane gases leaking into homes.

The drillers deny and deflect. Their lobbyists and spin doctors tell a different tale. It’s clean, it’s safe. Don’t worry.

Of course the irony this is that natural gas is touted as “clean energy.” Until you see how it’s extracted from these enormous shale beds. Then, not so much.

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for 70 years or so. The techniques have changed a bit, the equipment and chemicals more sophisticated. But there are still too many unknowns. The chemical and gas leaching, the odors, the downstream threat. And yet it’s full steam ahead as Pennsylvania and neighboring states (including Ohio) greenlight these Marcellus shale wells.


2 thoughts on “Fracked up

  1. This is the kind of crap that will continue to happen as long as politicians are owned by big business and the super wealthy…of course they knew what it would do…they simply don’t care as long as they can make obscene amounts of money…it’s up to us to demand change and keep demanding it with every election, with every purchase we make, with how we live our lives…

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