published Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Fracking public land has obvious downside: Cumberland forest plan is worrisome

No matter how much state officials try to prettify their decision to lease the 8,600-acre UT-owned Cumberland Forest for fracking for natural gas, their lame excuses for pillaging and profiteering from a public asset fall apart.

They can't assure that this wonderful 13-square mile piece of state property will continue to be a pristine asset for future generations of Tennesseans once the roads, trucks and mining infrastructure over-runs the forest, and once the mining spews slag heaps, gas flaring and toxic waste water ponds that wreck the landscape and taint air and water quality.

They can't assure that a web of horizontal hydraulic fracturing of the deeply buried shale rock formations will not release harmful toxic chemicals into the area's subsurface water. Nor can they promise that methane gas, radon and radioactive elements will not escape to the air from the fractured rock and leaking mining boreholes.

They can't support their promise that the mining may produce "model practices" for such mining, as some state officials suggested last month in granting the University of Tennessee a precedent-setting permit to mine the public land. After all, the state's current mining laws for fracking do not even meet the weak American Petroleum Industry's own best-practice standards, and no state agency has been trying to change them.

In fact, it seems unlikely now that UT and the state Building Commission, which granted UT the permit to lease the Cumberland Forest for fracking for up to 20 years, would even try to require fracking companies to meet higher mining standards.

This is, after all, an industry that the prior presidential administration exempted from disclosing the specific toxic chemicals that are used in fracking formulas. The chemicals are mixed with sand and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and injected in horizontal bore holes under high pressure to fracture shale rock formations in order to release natural gas, mainly methane.

Environmental experts have long advocated strict standards and more disclosure for fracking operations, but mining lobbyists so far have managed to defeat closer scrutiny. That imbalance prompted a new coalition of research scientists from several prominent universities -- including the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina -- to initiate a major research project on the effects of fracking in January. They will investigate reports of various human ills from fracking -- i.e., breathing difficulties, nausea, headaches, excessive fatigue, rashes and other effects -- and the toxicity of the water and chemical flowback from wells.

Citing the unusual effects in farming areas after fracking began, other critics want before-and-after analysis of the effects of fracking on water quality, milk and diseases in cattle and other farm animals, crops, plants, pasture lands and wildlife. And many await the findings of a belated comprehensive environmental impact assessment of fracking by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Given these concerns, one would think leaders at the University of Tennessee would have initiated a broad academic study of the effects of fracking before rushing for a plan to lease the land for fracking.

In fact, the background of the plan is suspicious on its face. The state's commissioner of finance, Mark Emkes, told the Building Commission Board prior to its March approval of the UT lease plan that he wanted a conference before the university enters a bid process for the lease, in part to address a controversy over whether a similar 2008 plan led to a bid proposal designed with a particular company in mind. Taken with the current national controversy over the efficacy of fracking generally, that stunning admission ought to persuade UT officials to back away from any fracking bid until the findings of larger studies are fully debated.

In any case, the state needs first to establish guidelines as to whether, or when, it is feasible and in the state's long-term best interest to initiative fracking on the state's public land. Once begun, where would that stop? And what would be the value of public state land lost to the negative consequences of fracking.

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328Kwebsite said...

If anyone should know better, it's UT-Ag. It's intellectually disappointing and emotionally upsetting to see the University do something so stupid for money. This will have permanent consequences for the land. There is no reasonable way for us to clean up this mess that fracking will create. Anyone with any foresight can see that the parts of this fracking system cannot be readily cleaned and maintained. The whole process requires pollution in the form of dumping to work.

This is a time when we would need a Governor to use his authority as President of the University to put a stop to stupidity. Instead, we see what we get from our politicians. Haslam himself owns gas stations.

The University of Tennessee needs to immediately stop this destructive behavior. It does not meet the standards we set for intellectuals who lead our state in education. @#$%^& totally stupid.

April 4, 2013 at 8:32 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

328Kwebsite notes: “If anyone should know better, it's UT-Ag. . . There is no reasonable way for us to clean up this mess that fracking will create. Anyone with any foresight can see that the parts of this fracking system cannot be readily cleaned and maintained.”

Yes, when you consider the strong correlations between the dirty business of hydraulic fracking and the obvious problems that it creates like sinkholes, siltation, contaminated water bodies, toxic gas flaring, and ugly slag heaps, UT’s decision to frack does appear to be less than bright. In fact, I guess most reasonable people would have to conclude it’s downright stupid. Indeed, UT’s new tagline should be “Big Orange. Stupid Ideas.”

April 4, 2013 at 10:02 a.m.
Leaf said...

Follow the money.

April 4, 2013 at 1:51 p.m.
Lr103 said...

I believe I read somewhere a couple of days ago, give or take, there was a small earthquake somewhere along the TN/Kentucky or TN/NC borders. My first thoughts were somebody's FRACKIN'!!! They can't blame it on God like Pat Robinson tried to blame the Haiti earthquake.

April 4, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

If this crowd ran the world we would still be living in caves for fear of stepping on a blade of grass.

April 5, 2013 at 12:36 p.m.
mitziyates1 said...

Wait until fracking comes to Hamilton County. Soddy is in for a big surprise.

April 5, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
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