published Friday, September 28th, 2012

David Cook: Fracking comes to Tennessee

This morning in Nashville — 9:30 CDT; it's a public meeting — the Tennessee Oil and Gas Board meets on the 17th floor of a Church Street building, where six men will vote on approving standards that would allow for one of the most controversial methods of energy extraction today.

Hydro-fracking in Tennessee.

"They ignored virtually every comment that the public made and adopted virtually all the meaningful comments that industry wanted," said Mark Quarles, an environmental consultant with Nashville's Global Environment.

Hydro-fracking — better known as fracking — is a monstrous process. Horizontal or vertical wells are drilled deep into the earth, then pressurized water and toxic chemicals are forced through the wells into the rock below. The rock is fractured, thus releasing the oil and natural gas trapped there, while also opening a wicked Pandora's box. These same chemicals can leak into aquifers, water wells and drinking supplies.

"Diesel fuel could be injected, legally, into a well," said Quarles. "And diesel fuel contains benzene, a known carcinogen."

A U.S. Geological Survey recently found levels of methane, ethane, diesel and phenol in the water supply of a small Wyoming town that is surrounded by 140 natural gas wells, according to Bloomberg News.

For more than a year, Quarles and other environmental groups have met with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the group responsible for writing the standards for today's vote. Their most important recommendations?

• Establish a baseline system for monitoring water quality before and after drilling.

• Notify the public before any wells are hydro-fracked.

• Match our state's standards with the industry standards formulated by the American Petroleum Institute.

"Virtually all of that was ignored by TDEC," Quarles claimed.

Much of this involves what's known as the 200,000-gallon threshold. The standards to be voted on today only require wells using more than 200,000 gallons of water in their hydro-fracking to monitor water quality and notify the public.

In other words, if fewer than 200,000 gallons of water are used to frack a well, the industry is not required to monitor groundwater or notify the public.

In some parts of Tennessee, thanks to the shallowness and thinness of rock containing the gas, fracking can occur with little water use.

"You might be able to frack [a well] several hundred times and fall beneath the 200,000-gallon threshold," Quarles said.

"And if you are the property owner next door, you don't know what they're using to frack with," said Ann Davis, managing attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Nashville. "If you want to test your own wells, you don't know what to test for."

Jim Bruner, whose company Planet Energy operates three wells in Tennessee, said the rules are fair and balanced, and tighter restrictions will hamper future industry.

"Everybody I know in this industry recognizes what the score is. If you don't follow the rules ... you're facing being out of business," he said.

The score. The rules. At what point do we follow the rules governing our environment? At what point do we tally the score in terms of clean water and democracy? At what point does the state's environmental authority start acting like one?

Sooner or later, we'll realize: When we frack with the earth, we frack ourselves.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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mkelly54 said...

This is a disaster waiting to happen. Thousands of rural families and businesses rely on aquifers for their water source. Tampering with this delicate balance has already created problems in other states, with tainted water supplies forcing people to find other sources of water.

Powerful lobbying firms have pushed through changing the regulations for fracking while the same firm have convinced elected officials to cut or eliminated support for wind farms, solar farms and other forms of clean energy, including fuel cell technology.

I hate to sound like an alarmist, but it this continues we could have a major health public issue, major setbacks in agricultural and other forms of industry that rely on ground water.

Bottom line, it's a dangerous and dirty business.

September 28, 2012 at 12:48 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Good article. Thanks for drawing attention to this. Natural gas is being touted as a cheaper and cleaner energy source but we are discovering that there is nothing cheap or clean about the extraction of it.

But I say, let them frack away. Let the government haters get a taste of their chemical-laden, newly flammable water and see, on a very personal level, what it's like when big business get its way every time and those pesky, burdensome government regulations can't stand in the way of the free market magic of making a buck.

Who needs clean water and air anyway? Whether it's mountain-top coal extraction and the concomitant devastation of vast wilderness areas and the polluted streams and wells of communities at their bases, or fracking that poisons our aquifers and drinking supplies, we all know that making money in a regulation-free capitalistic country trumps everything. That's just the American way.

So let's all raise a glass of methane-infused, benzene-tainted, flaming water in a toast to fracking and good ol' "natural" gas.

September 28, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.
conservative said...

Hydrofracking has been around for over 50 Years! So those opposed to using oil and gas for our energy needs will try anything including scare tactics to exploit the ignorance of gullible sheep.

Notice :

"fracking is a monstrous process"

"opening a wicked Pandora's box"

"a known carcinogen."

September 28, 2012 at 6:38 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

"Hydrofracking has been around for over 50 Years!" - conservative

Fracking in general has been around for 60 years or so but only since about 1998 has it been used for natural gas. And there are problems associated with this type of fracking (high volume, horizontal slickwater fracturing) that were not seen on such a wide scale with the more conventional low-volume fracking. For example, methane release into the atmosphere and contamination of our drinking water by methane are new concerns that come from this type of fracking.

September 28, 2012 at 10:30 p.m.
conservative said...

"Diesel fuel could be injected, legally, into a well," said Quarles. "And diesel fuel contains benzene, a known carcinogen."

Ah, the old "known carcinogen" scare card. Well, "known carcinogens" abound in our water and food! Arsenic is a "known carcinogen" and is found in rice, fish, shellfish, apple juice, poultry, mushrooms, even in the air we breathe and the water we drink!

We are all gonna die - someday!

September 29, 2012 at 7:19 a.m.
Chattlandia said...

Diesel fuel spilled on the ground, judging from the EPA regs on trucking firms, is treated as "monstrous." Do you really expect us to believe they are going to allow the injection of it into the earth?! What's the benefit of using diesel fuel over any other liquid, other than it fits Cook's "monstrous" description.

September 29, 2012 at 9:10 a.m.
conservative said...

Ever heard of saccharin?

Well, it is a "known carcinogen" also, found in a lot of foods. This "known carcinogen" is found in Sweet N'Low and Sugar Twin, soft drinks, ice cream, jams, chewing gum, canned fruit, candy, baked goods, dessert toppings and salad dressings.

See, you have bigger worries than hydrofracking!

September 29, 2012 at 9:18 a.m.
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