Environmental abuse in pursuit of oil and gas


To the Editor:

Hydraulic fracturing blasts oil and gas from tight shale rock more than a mile underground using a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals, to loosen petroleum-rich formations to get the oil and gas flowing to the surface. These energy resources are labeled by the industry as unconventional oil and natural gas.

Unlike the Deep Water Horizon, which required drilling only one hole to release its “conventional” (comes out of the ground all by itself) bounty of oil and natural gas, 30,000 holes will have to be drilled to release the unconventional oil and natural gas from Marcellus.

According to Robert E. Landreth [Rebutting the criticism of “fracking”], the 18 rural residences in Dimock Township whose household wells were contaminated by natural gas are blaming the wrong candidate. According to Mr. Landreth, “Cabot maintained its innocence in the alleged water well pollution and had in hand water analyses from the same wells, taken before it had done any drilling in the area, showing the presence of aromatic hydrocarbons likely caused by runoff from a nearby automotive garage.”

Mr. Landreth further states that Cabot “also demonstrated that a natural migration of methane gas into water wells had been a longstanding issue, prior to recent drilling activity. It acknowledged that methane gas from a coal-bearing strata in one or two of their recently drilled Marcellus Shale wells may have communicated to the groundwater, since Cabot could not conclusively prove otherwise. While this would in itself be a rare occurrence and worthy of investigation, it had nothing to do with the hydraulic fracturing process used by Cabot and other natural gas companies to unlock the previously unrecoverable Marcellus Shale from these wells.”

Cabot Oil & Gas was fined $240,000 by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, who alleged the company’s poorly constructed wells contaminated the groundwater. One Cabot well exploded, and others had insufficient or improperly cemented casings. The Houston-based company also spilled about 8,000 gallons of fracking fluid, polluting wetlands and a creek.

In two other cases, Atlas Energy was fined more than $150,000 by Pennsylvania for violating the state’s Oil and Gas Act, Clean Streams Law, and the Waste Management Act. Atlas dumped waste including diesel fuel and fracking fluid onto the ground. Atlas implemented poor erosion and sedimentation controls, allowing silt-laden runoff to hit the ground.

The fracturing process has risks. America’s reserves of conventional oil and gas are almost gone. America’s only remaining abundant indigenous supplies of oil and natural gas will have to come from petroleum-rich rock formations located around the United States.

The recent Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico was also a rare occurrence which shed light on a dangerously lax attitude toward safety taken by BP, abetted by regulators who failed to enforce existing rules.

With about 30,000 additional wells to be drilled in the Marcellus formation, as well as tens of thousands of wells in other shale formations around the country in the next ten years, it seems to me, that these rare events just might become more commonplace and turn into a land-based Deepwater Horizon.

Peter Cabana