Just two weeks ago the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft report linking hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination. Yet, despite this report, yesterday a Saline County, Illinois judge granted Colorado-based Next Energy, LLC the right to lease mineral rights from more than a thousand people without their permission!
Deep beneath the coal seams of Saline County lay the New Albany and Maquoketa shale deposits at 4,200 to 6,100 feet deep respectively. Next Energy, LLC plans to extract natural gas from the deep shale beds with a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is process in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the well at high pressure to create small cracks in the rock that allow natural gas to freely flow to the surface.
Toxic chemicals are used at every stage of the fracking process. Drilling muds, a combination of toxic and non-toxic substances, are used to drill the well. To facilitate the release of natural gas after drilling, approximately a million or more gallons of fluids, loaded with toxic chemicals, are injected underground under high pressure using diesel-powered heavy equipment that runs continuously during the operation.
One well can be fracked 10 or more times and there can be up to 28 wells on one well pad. An estimated 30% to 70% of the fracking fluid will resurface, bringing back with it toxic substances that are naturally present in underground oil and gas deposits, as well as the chemicals used in the fracking fluid.
Most well pads contain pits that hold used drilling muds, fracking fluids and the contaminated water (produced water) which surfaces with the gas. Produced water often continues to surface for the life of the well (20 to 30 years) and is often hauled in “water trucks” to large, central evaporation pits. Many of the chemicals found in drilling and evaporation pits are considered hazardous wastes and upon closure, every pit has the potential to become a superfund site.
In addition to the land and water contamination issues, at each stage of production and delivery, tons of toxic volatile compounds, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, etc., and fugitive natural gas (methane), escape and mix with nitrogen oxides from the exhaust of diesel-driven equipment to produce ground-level air pollution-causing ozone, which can spread up to 200 miles beyond the immediate region where gas is being produced. Ozone not only causes irreversible damage to the lungs, it is equally damaging to many plants and crops.
Hydraulic fracturing is one of only two underground injection processes exempted from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. States where hydraulic fracturing occurs have varying regulatory requirements, some of which are weak. For example, in Illinois oil and gas companies are not required to publicly disclose the types and amounts of chemicals that are injected underground in the fracturing process. In other words, nearby residents or landowners have no way of knowing what kinds of chemicals are being injected underground that may have contaminated their drinking water.
Between the county judge’s overeager bow to industry and Illinois’ oil and gas industry exemptions from the safe drinking water act, the citizens of Saline County are being fracked in more ways than one!