By Karina | August 13, 2008
This story about a Canadian woman who can set her water on fire is old news, but it caught my eye because the reason (as far as I can tell) that she can set her water on fire is because when the local oil company was drilling for natural gas nearby and they used a technique called hydraulic fracturing (often shortened to hydrofracing) to shake the oil loose from the geological formations underground. This is a technique that is often used with water production wells, as it forces a better connection between the well and the reservoir so more water can be drawn out. And they do say that the reason she can set her water on fire is because of naturally occurring methane. But what put the methane there? the hydrofracing did, as it broke down natural barriers between her drinking water aquifer and the zone that held the natural gases. So her well was accidentally impacted, which is No Good.
But what really struck me about this story was reading it after hearing on WNYC (the local NYC NPR affiliate) about proposals being fast-tracked through the New York State legislature to streamline the permitting process for natural gas drilling. There’s a partner article from the Albany Times Union here.
The article in Fast Forward Weekly [via Treehugger] says this: “Tests on her water revealed high levels of methane, ethane and several other fossil fuels. It also showed signs of heavy hydrocarbons, like the ones used in drilling fluids.”
THAT is the part that really freaks me out! losing your drinking water source is bad, yes. But the drilling fluids are a real mystery. Those drilling fluids, I learned from WNYC, are proprietary. There was a 2005 piece of federal legislation that protects these drilling companies from divulging the mixture of chemical. And from the Times Union article: “DEC officials downplay the importance of chemical additives. Additives make up just a fraction of a percent of the fluids; 99.4 percent is water and sand, said Bradley Field, the DEC’s oil and minerals director. But with two million gallons of drilling water used for one well, that equals 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals.”
Not so reassuring! not all of these fluids come out of the wells as the drilling is completed, and afterwards they are typically reinjected into the wells for disposal. And after reading about what happened to the Canadian woman? Think of all of the people in NYS who are eager for the extra cash they can get from selling their water rights. On top of that, have you SEEN how big the NYC watershed is? Regardless of all of the towns in NYS that are still reliant on wells to get drinking water, the area that must remain protected to avoid a catastrophic poisoning of water in NYC is GIGANTIC. I’m an environmental professional, and you’ve seen from my posts about plastics that I don’t really get that concerned about things. While I haven’t read a lot about this in scientific journals, THIS totally concerns me. I’m also really concerned that opposition to this (what little there is!) is in terms of impacts to surface water, and no one is talking about the potential for long term impact to the groundwater.
I know it’s not about a tiny choice, but y’all, stay on your toes when it comes to this issue. Keep your eyes peeled. When you get the opportunity to call someone DO SO. and continue to conserve so natural gas won’t be so darn important and expensive in the future.
- The Nature Conservancy has an education/action campaign for this issue in PA
- A self described conservative blogger has lots of (not entirely unbiased) information about this here, even if he/she DOES strive to debunk the “green weenies.”
- NYC asks NYS to declare a buffer and ban on drilling in areas near the watershed
- Check out the Catskill Mountainkeeper, a local group opposed to drilling.
I think we should all call Governor Paterson and ask him to stop drilling while the environmental assessments he’s required are performed. I’m not opposed to using science or chemicals, but I do think we should really understand what’s going on before sticking it into the ground.
What do you think? Have you heard about this? does it freak you out, or are you ok with it?
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