Two recent articles in the city’s daily newspaper (“Shale speculation off base,” Oct. 19, 2009, and “Oklahoma choir for gas gets bigger,” Oct. 22, 2009, The Oklahoman) promoted the financial advantages of harvesting natural gas from the vast shale reserves in the continental United States.
For an informed public, other issues need to be discussed: the health and environmental consequences of using a relatively new technology to extract natural gas from shale. This new technology is horizontal drilling/high-volume hydrofracturing (fracking), which is needed for maximal gas extraction, as well as maximal profit from shale. Gas well fracking is pressurizing fluid into the shale to fracture or break the formations, resulting in more gas extraction.
This new, high-volume technology involves up to 10 million gallons of fresh, drinkable water per well, at a time when fresh drinking water is becoming more scarce. In addition, this water are mixed with hundreds of thousands of pounds of highly toxic chemicals to increase the overall gas yield. The chemicals include carcinogens like benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons, endocrine disrupters, embalming fluids to reduce bacterial growth and other toxic organics,.
Much of this toxic mixture spills out during the drilling process, and the rest is left in the ground, all contaminating soil, aquifers and drinking wells. Multiply all this by the hundreds of thousands of new wells planned for the U.S. in the coming decade. The gas and oil companies received a special exemption in 2005 exempting this new practice from the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In states where this new practice has been used, toxic spills contaminating soil, streams and drinking watersheds have occurred with regularity. Just from the large sizes of these new hydrofracking operations (at least 100 times larger than low-volume “fracking”), such toxic contaminations would be expected to occur.
Local municipalities will carry the burden of monitoring this toxicity, disposing of toxic waste from these drilling operations, and repairing roads due to heavy truck usage needed. For all these reasons, the public needs to be aware of and discuss all the issues and consequences involving high-volume gas extraction from the shale reserves in the U.S., many of which occur in some of the most beautiful and pristine regions of our nation.
“Jay Hanas, Edmond