Punching More Holes in the Ground

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While the Nation’s and the World’s attention has been focused on the catastrophe in the Gulf, another search for fuel for our insatiable appetite for energy has slipped under the radar screen. Operations to release methane trapped deep underground in layers of shale have been going on for some time. Known by the ungainly name of “fracking,” holes are being drilled deep into the Earth to tap what is said to be the largest natural gas reserve in the US.

One of the largest shale formations, called the Marcellus layer after the town where one of the first wells that penetrated the formation was drilled, lies under New York and Pennsylvania. I have found lots of information on this process and the political and environmental shenanigans that accompany these projects on the web. Much to much to report here. I did find this recent article in Orion tells the story of activities in the Marcellus in a compelling way as do most articles in this great magazine.

Drilling aims to reach layers 1 to 2 miles below the surface, passing through aquifers both potable and not. Once inside the shale layer, the drill head turns horizontal to access a large section of the stratum. Large quantities of water, containing chemicals and other substances, are forced down the well to open the structure and free the gas which then rises to the surface where it is captured, purified, and transmitted by pipelines. The Orion article describes the transformation of the landscape and land use that these projects are causing. What has been productive farming country for decades is being peppered with well sites.

I cannot read this article without a feeling a mixture of dread and sadness. I hope those who read this blog will not feel a sense of inevitability and resignation. It is too late to prevent all the harm to the Gulf, but there is still time to support action in Pennsylvania and New York to stop or slow down the relentless pace of these projects.

Here’s a list of actions I found on Alternet:

So here’s what you can do, especially if you’re in Pennsylvania:

1. Call Governor Rendell to demand a moratorium on this: 717-787-2500
2. Check out local environmental groups involved with this. In PA, that includes the Green Party and the Environmental Working Group. Check out your state here.
3. If you’re a Pennsylvania Democrat, vote for Joe Hoeffel in the gubernatorial primary - he’s the only candidate who supports a moratorium.
4. Check out the movie Gasland and the blog for more info on this, along with the links in the diary.

With all the recent publicity of the dangers of punching holes in the Earth, it should not come as a surprise that accidents happen. Given that public interests concerned with safety and environmental harms know that putting holes deep into the Earth is fraught with risk, one might expect to find these operations highly regulated. Wrong. Fracking is exempt from all pertinent Federal environmental regulation, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Superfund Law.

The NYTimes carried an article in March 2010 reporting a failure by operators in Texas to report violation of an memorandum of agreement they had signed with the EPA in which they promised not to inject diesel oil into wells. Doing this poses a risk to drinking water sources. The MOA was, according to the Times, signed to head off federal regulatory or legislative actions, leaving any oversight to the states. It should also come as no surprise that the parties involved were Halliburton, BJ Services and Schlumberger, the nations’s largest oil field service companies.

As Peter Seeger writes in his plaintive folk song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,”

When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?
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