Cross posted from Scaling Green
I’ve previously written about presentations by Sister Maureen Fiedler and Nicole Condon of DC Water on Monday evening in Arlington, Virginia. The topic was potential hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the George Washington National Forest, and what risks that would pose to the DC metropolitan area’s drinking water supplies. Speaking first was Dusty Horwitt of Earthworks, an attorney who “has used his experience in journalism, law and politics to conduct investigative research and advocacy on metal mining, oil and natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” Here are a few key points by Dusty Horwitt:
- New York state has had a moratorium on shale gas drilling and fracking for the past 5 years. The state has estimate that if New York City’s “water supply was contaminated by fracking and drilling, the state or city would have to build a water filtration plant at a cost of at least $8 billion, with $200 million a year to operate that plant – a very, very expensive proposition.”
- There are many of the same concerns regarding the George Washington National Forest watershed. Three of the DC area water providers – DC Water, Fairfax Water, the Washington Aquedact (provides water to DC, Arlington and Falls Church) – “have all written to the Forest Service asking [them] not to allow horizontal drilling and fracking in the George Washington National Forest, because of risks that that would pose to the Potomac River, from which more than 4 million of us get our drinking water here in the Washington area.”
- The U.S. Forest Service could make a final decision at “any time.”
- The George Washington National Forest also contains headwaters for the James River, which provides water to 500,000 people in Richmond.
- About half of the George Washington National Forest sits on top of the Marcellus Shale.
- Why fracking – the “new ‘f word’ – has become such a big issue now because the oil and gas drilling industry has shifted heavily in recent years from conventional to unconventional formations. Getting oil and gas out of unconventional formations like shale requires large amounts of water, equipment and chemicals — industrial activity at a large scale (e.g., up to 4,400 truck trips per well pad to haul fluid in and to haul wastewater back out after the fracking operation is finished).
- There are a lot of risks involved in fracking, for instanced related to chemicals. Many of these chemicals are known to be “highly toxic,” while some of them are simply unknown, as the companies have not provided the information to the government.
- One of the main concerns is that some of these chemicals could spill and leak into the headwaters of the Potomac River and make their way downstream. Benzene, for instance, is a highly toxic chemical in drinking water at anything greater than 5 parts per billion.
- Another concern about fracking in the GW National Forest is waste disposal, as waste water can contain both the chemicals injected into the well, as well as the naturally occurring water (“produced water”) that’s in the formation. The problem with the “produced water” is that the Marcellus Shale is naturally radioactive, and there aren’t any great ways to dispose of this radioactive water.
- Underground injection can also cause chemical-laden water to leak into groundwater and trigger earthquakes. Migration of contaminants is a possibility as well, leading to instances of people’s water actually becoming flammable.
- This is a “very poorly regulated industry,” with “significant exemptions from most major federal environmental laws” such as the “Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, hazardous waste laws, the list goes on.”
- So, the EPA “basically doesn’t have the tools to protect us.” And even where the EPA does have tools to protect us, “we’ve seen several times in the last few years where EPA has mysteriously pulled out…without much explanation.”
- Earthworks found in 2010 that at least 50% of fracking wells were not inspected at all, so “we don’t have a lot of confidence that if this type of drilling and fracking were to proceed in the GW National Forest, that it would be regulated effectively.”
- Bottom line: “This type of drilling is simply too risky for our watershed and our water supply, as well as for the communities closer to the forest who would suffer other types of impacts including truck traffic and…intensive industrialization.”