Letters to the Editor for the November 25, 2013 weekly magazine:
Fractured shale provides minimal filtration, so contaminants can travel more easily and quickly. Putting chemicals in water and shooting it into the ground isn't a good idea.
Some make the case that government is doing a good job regulating the oil and gas industry on fracking. If companies really were trustworthy, they would have been self-regulating.
Marietta, N.Y. and Ojai, Calif.
Thank you for the two viewpoints on fracking – one from Richard Heinberg, the other from Don Smith and Rebecca Watson – in the Oct. 28 commentary section ("Will 'fracking' for fuel secure America's energy future?"). I would like to share firsthand experience that attests to the unpredictability of water flow through shale, as this is a key concern in the fracking (hydraulic fracturing) discussion.
I live in a part of upstate New York that is in the Marcellus Shale. A few years ago, with the approval of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a nearby farmer removed trees and shrubs that had formed a barrier between his fields and adjoining homeowners' properties. After the farmer applied a legal amount of cow manure to those fields, two children were hospitalized and several wells in the area tested positive for E. coli and high nitrogen levels.
As a homeowner in the affected area, I learned how the geology of our area is particularly susceptible to ground-water contamination. Fractured shale provides only minimal filtration, and contaminants can therefore travel more easily and quickly. Putting chemicals in water and shooting those chemicals into the ground doesn't sound like a good or reasonable idea.
A statement in the "Yes" view on fracking in the Oct. 28 commentary section was intended to offer assurance about government regulation and safety: "Last year the Environmental Protection Agency required that by 2015, drillers capture 'fugitive' emissions at oil and gas wellheads rather than release them into the air."
Mr. Smith and Ms. Watson are making the case that governments are doing a good job at regulating the oil and gas industry when it comes to fracking. Was the industry not capturing these emissions before the regulation? If these companies really were trustworthy, they would have been self-regulating. This raises the question, What else are they doing that government will later discover it needs to regulate?