published Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Fracking risks rise here

Tennessee for years has had a few lightly regulated natural gas wells in several north Tennessee counties. But with the rise of new techniques for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” of deep shale deposits to release natural gas, those counties and others in northwest and southeast Tennessee — including Hamilton County — are now expected to become players in the national shale fracking industry. That may enrich the gas industry, but under the state’s lamentably lax environmental laws, fracking is likely to threaten public water supplies with toxic pollution, and run the risk of air contaminated by radon, methane and other potent toxins.

Though outrageous, this isn’t unusual. When it comes to fracking, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has been politically hamstrung since the Reagan administration by major oil and gas lobbies. Even now, the EPA has been restricted by political leaders and Congress from developing comprehensive, effective national standards for the use and disposal of millions of gallons of toxic chemicals and fluids that are commonly used to force natural gas out of fractured shale deposits that lie more 5,000 feet underground.

Tennessee and other state governments are even more subject to anti-regulation bias and industry lobbyists. They have similarly failed to enact standards that protect the public’s interest in safe and clean water supplies and clean air. News reports on fracking around the country confirm the dire problem of lax regulation. And reports by this newspaper’s Pam Sohn over the past week bear witness to this surging conflict in Tennessee.

The University of Tennessee, for example, has put its agricultural department’s 8,636-acre publicly owned Cumberland Forest land in northeast Tennessee quietly on the table for negotiations for fracking leases with companies looking for gas, coal-bed methane and oil deposits. The proposal was fast-tracked, without transparency and a fair public forum, to the executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission last Thursday.

Documents on the proposal requested in December by the Nashville office of the Southern Environmental Law Center were wrongly withheld on the specious grounds that they were not official until the proposal was approved. Sohn’s request for the documents was similarly denied last week on the same illogical grounds.

SELC attorney Anne Davis raised pertinent questions about the proposal that remain unanswered: Whether fracking companies would be liable for damage to public water supplies; why the proposal hasn’t been publicly discussed; what, if any, rules would apply for safe use and disposal of toxic fracking fluids and for mitigation of drilling sites; and how the profits from well leases would be used.

These issues barely scratch the surface of the national controversy over fracking and the ingredients used in the process, usually in a mixture of vast quantities of water, sand and toxic chemicals, or a mixture of nitrogen gas and toxic additives. The mix is injected under high pressure into permeable shale deposits to crack open paths for natural gas to flow into the well bore.

There is good reason for public safety concerns about fracking. If methane, a toxic gas, escapes from the well-bore, it can migrate easily through the shale into aquifers and public water supplies, hence the infamous film showing running water from a faucet easily set afire in a Pennsylvania home near a fracking well.

Use and disposal of toxic chemicals, and the potential for releasing radioactive elements and radon from shale wells, are also major concerns. In many cases, toxic well-bore fluids, or their residual sludge, are superficially treated and left in lined detention ponds covered with dirt near well sites, a practice that requires stiff regulation. More egregiously, fracking and other gas-drilling operations are still not required by the federal government, or virtually all states, to identify the specific ingredients they use in fracking, though most are known to be toxic chemicals.

Tennessee’s regulations, moreover, do not even require drillers to test wells for leakages or to notify neighboring land owners unless they pump more than 200,000 gallons of water into a well. Tennessee’s governor and environmental departments have also failed to adopt the American Petroleum Institute’s best practices’ guidelines for drillers.

A New York Times survey of more than 111,000 leases demonstrates the vast problems of fracking. It found that fewer than half the leases require compensation of landowners for water contamination; that most leases convey broad rights to gas companies to clear trees, store chemicals, build roads and run 24-hour drilling operations; that drilling companies generally don’t inform landowners of potential environmental risks; and that most leases grant the companies automatic rights to extend their leases.

These are just a few of the issues that require cogent, comprehensive oversight. Yet when Gov. Bill Haslam met with this newspaper’s editorial board Thursday, he showed scant interest in concerns over fracking, and glossed over the topic. That may be the propensity of an energy-based billionaire whose family owns the national Pilot Flying J gas station empire. But it does not serve Tennessee well.

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mountainlaurel said...

Do I have this straight? . . . The University of Tennessee wants to use us all as guinea pigs to see if these “fracking” toxins are hazardous to our health.

February 3, 2013 at 10:02 a.m.
librul said...

There is ample evidence that this risky process exacts costs to the environment that are far in excess of the benefits realized. The fact that the University of Tennessee Ag Center would impose those risks and impacts on public lands of our state which they hold in trust reflects poorly on their level of awareness of the negative experiences of people across the country where this "last resort" method has been used.

Earthquakes, poisoned water supplies, impacts on the agriculture industry, tourism, scenic resources and public infrastructure which must deal with the offal of this idiocy. We must remember, though, that the ag center endorsed the commodification of our forests and the chip mill invasion and exhibited the same sort of lackadaisical interest in the impacts that could logically be expected to result.

We rejected chip mills, we should reject shale fracking despite Republican hysteria about leaving profits in the ground and millions spent on slick television commercials extolling fracking as a safe, clean way to energy abundance. It is not. It will never be. We should not allow this industry to threaten irreplaceable resources in our state while strugglin to insure its darkening future.

February 3, 2013 at 11:34 a.m.
Lr103 said...

The devastating earthquake that killed so many in Haiti, and they still haven't recovered, was said to have been caused by offshore drilling for oil when a major earthquake fault was, and that was in the ocean. Just think what will happen when a fault is hit during fracking or those underground rocks are destabalized in or near populated areas. Will it be so powerful that the Mississippi will flow backwards again?

February 4, 2013 at 8:54 a.m.
joneses said...

Imagine that. The liberals have found something else that is good for America to hate.

February 4, 2013 at 8:56 a.m.
moon4kat said...

I don't see any evidence that fracking is "good for America." Instead, it destroys America. The open spaces of Tennessee bring tourists here to enjoy the inviting, unspoiled beauty and clean, free-flowing water. Industrial fracking will ruin that, polluting the water and poisoning animals and people. It is simply dishonest to pretend that fracking does no harm to the water tables. And, as for protecting the water by "impermeable rock" -- HA! That rock won't be impermeable after it's fracked. Fracking in Hamilton County will be another example of profits for a few who plunder the land while everyone else is left with a poisonous and degraded environment.

February 4, 2013 at 9:27 a.m.
conservative said...


Today we will tell you how to reduce your Al Gore, i.e. carbon footprint.

Today's tip:

The true believers have abandoned their carbon heat factories and walk to work. Now, if you carry your partner piggy back there will only be one set of footprints resulting in a 50% reduction!

February 4, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.
Easy123 said...

You're a moron.

February 4, 2013 at 9:39 a.m.
joneses said...

Attached is a video on fracking for all you numb nuts that thing fracking is a bad thing.

February 4, 2013 at 2:25 p.m.
Easy123 said...

Speaking of numbnuts, joneses is here!

February 4, 2013 at 2:39 p.m.
librul said...

Whoopeee! And he has brought a totally unbiased (I'm sure) video on fracking from the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association! Thanks Jonesy, it's always good to see the kind of propaganda the enemy is producing.

We fight propaganda with facts provided by citizens affected by this idiocy ...

February 4, 2013 at 2:57 p.m.
conservative said...


Today's tip :

I hope you have abandoned those heat producers.

Till then, if you must be a hypocrite and drive at least change your air filter once a month.

This tip brought to you by NAPA.

February 5, 2013 at 9:35 a.m.
librul said...

18 hours and that's all you've got !?!?!

Pretty lame.

February 5, 2013 at 12:50 p.m.
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