Monday, May 02, 2011

Fracturing Our Shenandoah Drinking Water?

Shenandoah Valley residents have every reason to be alarmed about their drinking water. A Texas Gas Company owned by Carrizo Marcellus LLC wants to frack his first well in Bergton in the Marcellus Shale region located at the Headwaters of the Shenandoah River. Already 13,000 acres of land have been leased to gas companies to drill for natural gas. Due to the alarming pattern of water contamination in and around these wells across the county we need to thoroughly examine the evidence and risks before we allow this controversial drilling practice to take place or at all.

When a well is fracked they use a horizontal drilling technique that goes a mile or more down into the earth pumping a fluid at high pressures that cause the rock to crack, sometimes even causing mini earthquakes that release the trapped gas for extraction. The pumping fluid is a mixture of sand, 596 undisclosed chemicals, and several million gallons of water. Currently gas companies refused to disclose those chemicals, but water testing of contaminated sites reveals highly toxic chemicals are being found in the samples.

In February 2010, Rockingham County Board of Supervisors tabled a special use zoning request filed by Mr. Carrizo since highly protective regulations were lacking. The movie Gasland by Josh Fox is a documentary of Josh's cross country journey to find out if the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing is actually safe. Josh himself was approached to lease his own land for hydraulic fracturing. He discovers on his journey that drinking water has been contaminated, that people and animals are getting sick, and that the industry is understudied and poorly regulated. This movie sounds an alarm bell for those of us who live in the Shenandoah Valley that we should thoroughly investigate hydraulic fracturing because the movie reveals serious harmful results from such drilling.

Our valley acts as a huge water treatment system cleaning water for our neighbors downstream. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in water resource infrastructure in Rockingham County and other neighboring counties. Much of the Shenandoah water also comes out of the ground: the fundamental water purification system.

Already our valley's water resources are extremely fragile. Spring water has been tested and shown to be only 11 years old. Water in our valleys is trapped--no deep aquifers and poor drainage. Much of the country's hydro-geology is like Swiss cheese and highly sensitive to pollution with its sink holes and caves. Fracking will create future liabilities. There are over 2000 private wells installed in the county since 1990. Ground water is tapped through wells placed in water bearing rock and other materials beneath the earth's surface.

Fracking jeopardizes not only our drinking water, but also the environmental health of the entire Shenandoah Valley including air pollution concerns. There are many unknown chemicals used in fracking combined with what rises to the surface once you drill and bring the gas up.

The connection between ground water and surface water plays a major role in ground water recharge in the Valley and the Ridge, where streams often cross fault zones recharging aquifers. Wells in the fault zones have the greatest yields. Recharge also occurs through surface run off into limestone sinkholes, bypassing filtration through the soil. This can cause serious water quality problems since polluted surface water may be introduced directly into the ground water system.

While the industry claims the process is safe, states like New York for example are issuing a moratorium preventing this kind of high volume hydraulic fracturing until their legislators can reach an informed decision about the risks. Our neighboring state Maryland who sits on one of the largest gas reserves in the world and stands to profit handsomely from natural gas drilling moved to place a moratorium on drilling until the Maryland Department of the Environment completes a two year study to determine whether it endangers drinking water and public health as some environmentalist claim. Maryland legislators stated, "We are not going to be like other states such as Texas, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas for that drilled first and asked questions later

We are very fortunate here in Virginia that we have the opportunity to make an informed decision about hydraulic fracturing for natural gas-our future prosperity depends on this. Nearly 100 year ago we wisely established the George Washington National Forest to protect our drinking water. Now in some of these areas is where they propose to frack.

Also nearly 90 percent of the Washington DC area depends on the Shenandoah River for clean drinking water. Why allow a hydraulic fracturing drill sight where the Shenandoah River begins affecting everyone downstream? The Shenandoah River also generates billions of dollars in agriculture, timber, tourism, and other environmental benefits. To run the risk of contaminating streams and the river could have enormous economic consequence.

Fracking has a poor track record for example look at what happen in Pennsylvania on April 21, 2011. Here, a fracking well blew near the surface spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over the containment walls, through the open fields, farms and homes while the cattle where grazing in the field. Officials report that frack fluid contaminated the Towanda Creek which feeds into the Susquehanna River and 7 families needed to be evacuated from their homes.

While more jobs and a fuel that burns cleaner is attractive to many including residents of economically depressed rural areas in need of money the number of chemicals used in the extraction of fracking raises the questions, how much safer and cleaner is it?

There is significant concern over fracking both here in Virginian and throughout our land. May we better understand the potential threat hydraulic fracturing can cause to our drinking water, water resources, as well as our air. At present the risks of fracking outweigh the rewards since this gas drilling provides no safeguards from polluting our Shenandoah watershed.