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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Keep Fracking Out of Massachusetts

Protesters rallying against fracking at a Shale Gas conference at UMass Amherst



The technology for extracting gas trapped within rock (shale gas) has been around since the early 1950s, and on the positive side, in the past decade it has boosted natural gas production to its highest in 30 years. On the flip side, this “fracking” involves injecting a highly pressurized fluid/cocktail of water, chemicals, and sand deep into the earth in order to fracture rocks to release gases trapped within.

The fracking issue reached Massachusetts last year, when a June 2012 U.S. Geological Survey report indicated the existence of an “undiscovered natural gas resource of 3,860 billion cubic feet” within some of the underground basins of the East Coast; one of those is the Hartford Basin, overlapping Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Later, in December, the American Groundwater Trust (AGWT), a group of engineers and energy industry members, held a public informational conference — at $100 a ticket — at UMass Amherst in order to “bring shale gas issues … to the forefront in a region with no history of fossil fuel recovery.” In response to the presence of AGWT, student groups from Amherst and Hampshire College staged a 50-student-strong protest at the event, which attracted press.

It’s what exactly the oil and gas companies are injecting into the earth that has got people concerned. According to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce’s April 2011 report, “Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing,” among the ingredients added to fracking fluids, were “extremely toxic” chemicals such as benzene and lead.

The same study revealed the most-added chemical was methanol, a known hazardous air pollutant. Companies have experimented with over 2,500 ingredients, including 750 different chemicals, 29 of which were either confirmed carcinogens, air pollutants, or “regulated under the Safe Drinking Water act for their risks to human health.”

The report concluded that “the companies are injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.” Disclosure is, in this case, completely voluntary. Environment America notes separately that “Residents living near fracking sites have long suffered from a range of health problems, including headaches, eye irritation, respiratory problems and nausea.”

Wastewater from fracking sites (wells) is a concern. Well operators have four choices: recycle the fluid to be used again, store it permanently somewhere, flush it into nearby water, or send it to sewage treatment facilities. It is unknown whether the toxic fluids can be fully processed at facilities.

AGWT claims that “problems” (water contamination) are “more likely to result from surface storage and handling of chemicals, and return water treatment and disposal than from the actual deep hydraulic fracturing process.”

Massachusetts would do well to invest in fracking wastewater control and chemical regulation legislation, because if AGWT is correct, and public water contamination is more likely to occur from toxic fluids being “stored improperly” at the surface (above water tables), the environmental costs of fracking and shale gas mining could put the Quabbin Reservoir at risk, which is right next door to the Hartford Basin.

Shale wells are currently prohibited by the state of MA. New York has banned fracking until it can develop regulation for it — Environment America’s Research and Policy Center estimated, in its September 2012 study, “The Costs of Fracking,” that if “fracking were to degrade the New York City watershed with sediment or other pollution, construction of a filtration plant would cost approximately $6 billion.” Other states have already had to face cleanup costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Resistance to fracking is already strong in Massachusetts and seems poised to remain so.  Additionally, according to a Globe article, geologists say Massachusetts’ shale gas deposits — perfect for fracking — are “probably too small, scattered, and of questionable quality” for serious enterprise.

Despite such good news for the environment, fracking doesn’t have to come to Massachusetts in order to have an impact. WBUR reported in April that Rob Day, venture capitalist at Black Coral Capital — a company which “invests exclusively” in “alternative energy” — admitted that the nationwide fracking boom “is absolutely driving investors out of the water.”