Solutions with Hydraulic Fracturing or “Fracking”
One of the most important issues for Pennsylvania and our district is thedevelopment of the Marcellus Shale Gas formation. The Marcellusformation has the potential to provide for the
natural gas needs
for a decade or more
, not to mention provide a tremendous economic boom in our state.
From my travels in the district, the public is notyet highly aware of the full impact of what could easily become a curseinstead of a blessing.The purpose of the below is to share my opinion on what should be done both as a citizen and federal candidate for US Congress. As a disclaimer,while I do hold a chemical engineering degree from Lehigh University,most of my working experience is in the semiconductor industry, notnatural gas. (Photos courtesy EPA)Hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” is done by rupturing shaleformations to release gas trapped inside. A water-and-sand basedsolution is forced into the cracks to allow the gas to be captured after the pressure is removed. Wells are repeatedly“fracked” until the yield of gas is no longer economical.There are four main environmental dangers and concerns involved in fracking, the first two being of the most concern:
Proprietary fracking solutions pumped into the well are a chemical cocktail including known carcinogens such as benzene and xylene, and ethylene glycol, the hazardous chemical in anti-freeze, and sometimes even diesel fuel.
These chemicals can remain in the ground and migrate into drinking water wells and aquifers, includingthrough the well’s casings, and cause serious health problems to all living organisms. After a “frack,” thesehazardous chemicals are isolated with the recovered water and dissolved methane gas in settling ponds, which canalso leak or evaporate.2.The natural gas (primarily methane) can migrate through the ground, through well casings, or through the settling process into the water supply. Residents’ drinking water from contaminated wells sometimes can be ignited fromthe faucet with high levels of foul-smelling sediment. Firewater can also occur naturally, which highlights theimportance of baseline studies prior to any drilling activity.3.To pressurize the wells, large quantities of water are necessary, in the realm of several millions of gallons per “frack.” Pumped far below aquifer depth, much of this water will remain trapped in the well. Detailed studies of the impact on local roads from heavy tanker traffic, and the local drinking water supply and reservoirs need to becompleted, and of course is of particular concern during droughts.4.Soil and rock tailings removed from the well during drilling can contain hazardous chemicals like arsenic, whichhave been isolated underground. While this may be less of a concern than the above, caution and testing isnecessary to confirm the tailings are not harmful. Normally, fracking operations would be covered as Class I or Class II injection wells under the federalSafe Drinking Water Act(SWDA). However, in 2005, my competitor, Congressman Charlie Dent, during the Bush/Cheneyadministrationvoted for HR 6 which includedSection 322,aka the Halliburton Loophole, which deregulated hydraulic
fracturing from environmental regulations and precautions under the SWDA. (Dentaccepted campaign donations from
Halliburton in 2004.) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no authority to even monitor the amount, type or toxicity of the chemicals used in fracking.Here are the solutions proposed:
I would co-sponsor, and urge Congressman Dent to immediately co-sponsor,HR 2766, the FracturingResponsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act of 2009. This short bill removes the HalliburtonLoophole and also specifies that drilling companies must disclose safety-related information about all chemicalsused to the public or during a medical emergency. This removes a special privilege granted to special groups.
However, I view the FRAC Act as only a band-aid that highlights the ineffectiveness of both the EPA and federalCongress versus the lobbyists. Pennsylvaniaalready has “primacy” over the SWDA, meaning that Pennsylvania’s
own requirements are equivalent or more stringent than federal guidelines, and the SWDA is enforced by the