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What it's fracked up to be

October 11, 2012
By STEPHEN HUBA - Staff Writer , The Review

EAST LIVERPOOL - The costs of the shale gas drilling boom in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia far outweigh the economic and energy benefits, a West Virginia chemist and farmer who has studied the industry said Wednesday.

Dr. S. Thomas Bond, speaking at the East Liverpool campus of Kent State University, his alma mater, outlined 13 "externalized costs of shale drilling" in a talk sponsored by the campus and its Environmental Club.

Bond, an inorganic chemist and beef farmer from Jane Lew, W.Va., acknowledged there are benefits to the boom - in jobs created and in energy outputs - but added, "I'm not here to talk about that. ... The arguments against (hydraulic fracturing) are manifold."

Bond has his doctorate in inorganic chemistry from Kent State and is a retired professor from Salem International University, formerly Salem College, in Salem, W.Va.

Bond said it's hard to get reliable information about fracking because so much of it is written by partisans who skew the facts heavily in favor of, or against, the process.

"Almost no printed economic analysis is honest," he said. "They list jobs gained, but not jobs lost. They list royalties, but fail to mention that much of that money goes where there is no damage. It goes to property owners who live outside the community and who, like the Beverly Hillbillies, move out."

Bond characterized shale drilling as an "immature, very dirty" process that dates back only 10 years-to a well drilled by Mitchell Energy in the Barnett Shale in 2002.

"It is a Neanderthal which hasn't had time to evolve into a clean, socially acceptable form," he said. "It leaves a very large part of the resource in the ground. Only 10 percent is recovered - very low for any form of petroleum, with neither plans nor hope to recover the rest of it."

Because the current fracking technology is relatively new, Bond said, there hasn't been time to "field test" it.

"That is, it was never tried out with scientific attention to environmental, health and community problems," he said, "but was adopted by modern-day adventurers - buccaneers, really - who have taken advantage of the problems of declining oil, vast amounts of capital readily available and the gullibility of the public and politicians."

The biggest problem with hydraulic fracturing, as Bond sees it, is the potential contamination of aquifers. Bond said it is important for property owners to have their well water tested to establish a baseline - that is, the condition of the water before drilling takes place.

"Your own well is your responsibility," he said. "If your water is ruined, you need proof of what it was like before drilling. There is no end of sophisticated arguments that can be used against you if you do not have proof it was good in the past."

Other costs of the fracking industry, Bond said, include:

* Air pollution from storage tanks, drilling ponds and compressor stations.

* Water pollution in streams resulting from spills, seeps, surreptitious dumping and road accidents.

* Damage to inadequate roads from heavy trucks. Bond cited the example of Wetzel County, in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle, where a rural fire station was blocked by fracking traffic. "Each well requires a lot of big truck traffic - 1,500 truckloads of water and the diesel fuel and pipe that must be carried in," he said.

* Loss of surface area due to occupation and subsequent pollution of the site. Bond said the four "principal footprints" at a fracking site are the drilling pads, the access roads, the pipelines from the wells, and the compressor stations.

* Leasing techniques that pit neighbor against neighbor. Of leasing, Bond said, "It is not a deal between one person to recover a particular resource and another who owns it," he said. "It is a deal between one 'person' who never dies - the corporation - and the current owner of the resource for all the line that follows him - forever."

Bond gave several suggestions for what property owners can do when negotiating a lease, including:

* Ask for a right of first refusal at the end of the lease.

* Limit the types of formations and mineral rights in the lease.

* Ask to block or have final approval on surface use.

* Put all special agreements in a written addendum to help clarify a lease.

Bond said in all the enthusiasm over fracking there is "no consideration that the shale drilling boom will soon be over, leaving the community a sort of mineral equivalent to the rust belt - burned over, burned out."

 
 

 

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