Photo credit: Ken Doerr via Flickr/CC BY
As environmental media outlets turned their attention to the anniversary of the BP Gulf spill -- a year ago today -- yet another energy-related disaster occurred. A gas well owned by Chesapeake Energy in Pennsylvania suffered a blowout today, and spilled thousands of gallons of everyone's favorite fracking fluids into the surrounding environment. (Refresher: those fracking chemicals are comprised of toxic stuff that the companies who use them keep secret). It's certainly not a disaster anywhere close to par with the Gulf spill, but Time's Bryan Walsh makes a good point: with bipartisan political support for natural gas firmly in place, and an industry primed to take up the slack from dirty coal, we're probably going to see more accidents like this. From Time:
From simple spills to industrial accidents to the ongoing problem of wastewater disposal, the rapid expansion of shale gas drilling will inevitably bring risks, even if it's done well. You don't have to fear the contamination of underground aquifers to worry about the impacts of shale gas drilling. Indeed, this afternoon--a year after the BP oil spill--a Chesapeake Energy gas well in northeastern Pennsylvania reportedly suffered a blowout, spilling thousands of gallons of fracking fluid water on the surrounding ground. It's not the first such blowout--and it likely won't be the last.So add potential blowouts to the lengthening list of risks associated with drilling for gas. To recap, the biggest known problems with extracting natural gas are
a) That companies are commonly used the process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to inject an unknown cocktail of toxic chemicals (a loophole lets them legally keep which chemicals they're using secret) into the rock in the ground to split it apart. These chemicals have been found to contaminate underground aquifers that supply many people with drinking water with toxic, carcinogenic chemicals. Also, the fracking process releases a ton of greenhouse gases.
b) The abundant waste water needs to go somewhere. In some regions, it's possible to shoot the toxic waste water back down into the earth -- but in many places, it's not. This is a major problem, since water treatment centers aren't equipped to deal with the stuff.
c) Spills and explosions on the site. As demonstrated above, there's plenty of room for mechanical failure or personal error in the fracking process.
Now, Walsh does report that there are some innovative solutions to at least the waste water problem -- but it's pretty clear that we have to better acquaint ourselves with the wide range of risks that natural gas presents as it becomes a favored candidate to supply more of our nation's energy mix.
More on Natural Gas
Natural Gas Far Less Green Than Claimed - Fracking Emissions 1000s Times Higher Than Reported: EPA
Oil Company Document Instructs Agents to Mislead Landowners About Drilling Risks
Residents Speak Out on Natural Gas Fracking : TreeHugger