Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

August 8, 2011

Save the Water Table: Scientific facts don’t back gas companies’ Marcellus shale claims

UNION — Members of an organization aiming to preserve Monroe County maintain that hydrofracture drilling on the Marcellus shale will be harmful to their way of life.

In a previous article run in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph last Monday, Dr. L. Zane Shuck,  a retired professional engineer who worked early on with the development of hydrofracture technology, discussed the safety and implementation hydrofracture drilling. However, Myles Yates, co-president of Save the Water Table, said his and his organization’s research does not agree with Shuck’s.

“We have been researching the effects of hydraulic fracturing on public health and the environment, scientific facts do not support the statements made by representatives of gas companies attempting to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale,” Yates said. “We have group cited numerous documented sources, among them a Duke University peer-reviewed study on well-water contamination from shale-gas drilling and hydrofracking published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ This study  found high levels of leaked methane in well water collected near shale gas drilling and hydrofracking sites. The scientists collected and analyzed water samples from 68 private groundwater wells across five counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York.”

According to Yates, other university studies also support Save the Water Table’s claims that hydrofracture drilling is an unsafe practice.

“The Cornell University study titled ‘Methane and the Greenhouse-gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations’ found that the amount of methane escaping into the atmosphere during shale-gas production due to venting and well leaks is at least 30 percent higher than that released during conventional natural gas production,” Yates said. “Over a 20 year time span, the Green House Gas (GHG) footprint for shale gas is up to 43 percent higher than conventional natural gas, 50 percent higher than oil and 20 percent higher than coal for the same amount of energy produced by each of the three sources.”

Yates refuted Shuck’s claim that the EPA found no danger in hydrofracture drilling, saying the EPA is currently questioning previous statements about the safety of wells near hydrofracture drilling.

“Although gas company representatives and certain EPA members have claimed that no water wells or fresh water aquifers have ever been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, those statements are now being questioned by the EPA,” Yates said. “The New York Times reports that EPA officials have become aware that the gas industry practice of concluding legal settlements and non-disclosure agreements with landowners who have suffered contamination incidents effectively seals those incidents from public review and has prevented scientific documentation up to now.”

Furthermore, Yates said there are documented cases of well water being contaminated via hydrofracture drilling.

“There is in fact a documented case, and the EPA report that discussed it suggests there may be more,” Yates said. “In their report, EPA officials wrote that the case, the James Parson’s well in Jackson County, W.Va., is an illustrative example of the hazards of this type of drilling. Bipartisan federal legislation currently before Congress would require judges to consider public health and safety before sealing court records or approving settlement agreements. To date, there is in fact a second documented case of well contamination due to fracking: Craig and Julie Sautne from Pennsylvania have a letter from the DEP concluding that their water well was contaminated by methane gas by Cabot Oil and Gas Company.”

Yates said local scientists also maintain the unique karst formation beneath Monroe County could be harmed by drilling.

“Monroe County Educator Ba Rea stresses the importance of fully examining the impact hydraulic fracturing would have on karst — the geological formation underlying most of Monroe County — before any drilling can commence,” Yates said. “In her opinion Monroe County should be the last place that an industry that cares about safety and responsibility would try to develop. But leases in Monroe County were cheap, permits in West Virginia are cheap and there is no regulation to speak of. In a market driven industry that considers environmental and community impact to be acceptable collateral damage, the low cost of entry is an opportunity.”

Yates said he did not feel it was accurate that most of the media attention surrounding hydrofracture drilling and the Marcellus shale is anti-drilling but rather pro-drilling.

“We must enhance our ability to read between the lines and to draw our own conclusions,” Yates said. “If we stop to think about it, why on earth would representatives from an industry that is able to pay for expensive advertisements on TV, billboards along the interstates, public meetings in targeted communities claim that ‘only one side of the story is being made public.’ The industry hasn’t lost any time to make the point of view backed by power and profit known to the public and has even gone so far as to infiltrate the public school system in some areas. If anything, it is the point of view held by concerned citizens with limited means donating their lives to raising public awareness that is struggling to make itself public. If hydraulic fracturing were truly going to benefit our county and its environment — or our planet and the survival of our species — then we would most certainly be for it.”

— Contact Kate Coil at

kcoil@bdtonline.com�

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