Saturday, September 15, 2012

Michigan Hydro-Fracturing: Gassed Politicians Sell Out Residents

One of the three State Excelsior wells
on Sunset Trail in Mackinaw State Forest, Kalkaska County, MI
Photo by LuAnne Kozma, Ban Michigan Fracking

"Michigan is perfectly safe and we have safeguards in place," Horn said. "This does not mean won't look for improvements in public safety." -- Rep. Ken Horn, R-Saginaw

"'Because there is more money to be made, especially with high oil prices now, legislators will want to move forward' and lease more land to operators, mostly in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan." -- Steve Chester, the former director of the state Department of Environmental Quality and now an attorney representing gas companies.

"...chemicals found in the frack water include benzene, toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene."

Above are some lines from "Fracking in Michigan appears on the upswing," by Jay Greene in Crain's Detroit Business.

Everything's gonna be fine...

OK, I should qualify that. Everything's gonna be fine if you're a rig operator, or a Michigan state legislator, who does not draw drinking water from an aquifer punctured by one of these wells. Likely then, you'll be fine, especially the state legislator who will tip-toe through the revolving door at the end of his term, and into the glorious corporate realm where money grows on trees.

Those gas companies intend to shaft the rest of us, though.

While it is true that gas companies drilled for gas in Michigan over the last 50 or 60 years, as the article states, these were shallow wells, under 2500 feet, that required only 50,000 gallons of water to fracture. The new wells will use deep hydraulic fracturing, and require 3 million to 5 million gallons of water. Actually, what goes in these wells they do not call water. They refer to it as slickwater.

Slickwater is water mixed with very, very toxic chemicals; the sort of chemicals that, when you buy them in the hardware store for cleaning paintbrushes, or prepping materials for painting, the manufacturer puts that Jolly Roger skull and crossbones on the side of the can.

photo: Wikipedia

Smelling this stuff causes cancer. Drink it? Are you nuts? Well, gas drillers say no worries, you can drink water contaminated with benzene, it won't hurt you. That's why our leaders in Congress omitted fracking fluids from the Clean Water Act back in 2005. Because these chemicals are safe to drink. Go ahead, drink them Congress. (Just kidding Congress, don't drink them -- they would kill you. But it's fine if your constituents drink them, right? As long as the campaign contributions from gas company lobbyists flow like... like slickwater.) And if you thought the organic compound cocktail was bad enough, wait there's more. Drillers also pump radioactive isotopes like Cobalt-60, with a half-life of 5.27 years, into their wells "to determine the injection profile and location of fractures created by hydraulic fracturing."

But I'm blowing the whole toxic groundwater thing way out of proportion. These guys, these politicians and well-drillers know what they're doing. They line these wells with steel casings held in place by concrete -- special concrete -- triple-walled down to a point below the punctured aquifer. All that steel and concrete, you see, prevents the toxic slickwater from seeping into the aquifer where our drinking water resides. But there are seams in the steel -- they insert it in sections, and join the sections. Seams in pipes fail. Especially when jammed into rock and pumped full of nasty chemicals at high pressure. Thousands of feet of layered bedrock, under the pressure of its own weight, surely impose uneven forces on well-casing seams. Surely many of the hundreds of thousands of expected wells will experience failures of these seams, and many of these will propagate contamination upward toward aquifers. And don't forget the concrete used to hold the casings in place near the surface, like the stuff made by Halliburton that famously plugged the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. That's the one were the concrete from Halliburton failed, the well blew, eleven men were killed, and 5 million barrels of oil were spilled into the Gulf, trashing shrimp and tuna fishereries, killing untold numbers of porpoise, sea turtles, and birds. More to the point, a well-head at a fracking site in Pennsylvania failed -- a blow out -- and streamed 10,000 gallons of chemical laden water across hillsides and into streams.

These guys know what they are doing, you see. There won't be any mistakes in Michigan. That concrete from Halliburton will not fail. As Rep. Horn said, "Michigan is perfectly safe and we have safeguards in place..."

And yet, tales of mistakes made abound. Really. Have a look at ProPublica's ongoing series on hydraulic fracturing: "Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat." Or, you can Google "hydraulic fracturing lawsuits" and watch the cases scroll by. All over the country, fracking destroyed groundwater and people are pissed. Gas companies might pay some damages, but they won't pick up the entire tab. It will be residents forced to add elaborate filtering mechanisms to their municipal and residential wells. And that's to deal with the drinking water contamination. When drilling rig well-heads and containment ponds fail and contaminate streams, creeks and rivers with millions of gallons of "slickwater" drillers will likely be fined, but little or no remediation will be performed. How do you extract millions of gallons of toxic slickwater from a mountain stream. You don't. The fish die, the stream dies, and people downstream drink the stuff, now diluted but still there when municipalities pump it into homes.

The safety claims of drillers are a canard. You can not drill through aquifers and force toxic chemicals down the well at high pressure, and then pump those chemicals out and dispose of them without contaminating groundwater and the surrounding environment. You can not guarantee that a concrete or steel lining of a well extending 500 or 1000 feet below the surface will not fail and allow chemicals pumped in at high pressure to seep into surrounding aquifers. You can not guarantee that chemicals pumped into a well that extends horizontally 10,000 or 15,000 feet will not be compromised by cracks that allow methane (natural gas) and fracking fluids at high pressure to seep upward and contaminate groundwater. In fact, such seepage of gas occurs naturally. That is the explanation gas companies give when methane does contaminate groundwater and they seek to repudiate peer-reviewed scientific studies with sneering, specious argument. (Several links here are borrowed from "Rolling Stone Responds to Chesapeake Energy on 'The Fracking Bubble'" -- a worthwhile read.)

"The Fuss Over Fracking: The Dilemma of a New Gas Boom" -- Time


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