I appreciate the ominous image selected for the topic of this article: hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.
State Capitol in Springfield. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune / November 10, 2011)
Governor Quinn signed legislation yesterday that aims to allow, but (hopefully at the least) heavily regulate fracking in the state of Illinois. Fracking involves huge volumes of highly pressurized water and chemicals pumped into shale beneath the earth’s surface to release otherwise trapped natural gas. Apparently the oil and gas industry is already engaged in this type of gas attainment, but it has done so with little regulation or oversight. That is a serious problem.
Many claim this new legislation will help keep communities safe from threats of the fracking procedures. In fact, Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, calls the law “the most comprehensive environmental regulatory bill in the country on hydraulic fracturing.” But what threats is it is potentially regulating? How about contaminated drinking water from chemicals used in the process- several known to cause cancer, like methane, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
Popular Mechanics has an interesting point:counterpoint slide show on the industry and its threats. Speaking to these chemicals, the Popular Mechanics e-zine slide-show shares, “Even if these chemicals can be found under kitchen sinks, as industry points out, they’re poured down wells in much greater volumes: about 5000 gallons of additives for every 1 million gallons of water and sand. A more pressing question is what to do with this fluid once it rises back to the surface”.
While the legislation is supposed to be strict and provide safeguards against exposure, accidents do and likely (odds are) will happen. Colorado residents experienced this when 241 barrels of fracking fluid mixture spilled onto the ground, eventually contaminating drinking water supplies. Or more recently in Wyoming when a well started spewing wastewater for hours, uncontained.
And that’s just one incident of one of the potential threats to the way of life for those around the fracking sites. This list and summative statement from NYC’s Environmental Protection department describes several other implications of the industry’s impact and potential risks: water consumption, wastewater disposal, use of toxic chemicals, substantial truck traffic, air pollution, noise from the loud, twenty-four hour hydrofracking operations, potential groundwater and well water contamination, deforestation, roadbuilding and surface water runoff from these large industrial sites. The cumulative effect of these impacts may indeed transform entire communities – turning previously rural, agrarian areas into “fractured communities.”
It will be interesting to see how this new legislation in Illinois can balance all of these threats, keep our environmental resources safe (e.g. clean drinking water and healthy and safe places to hunt, fish and swim), while allowing for an economic growth that is truly beneficial to the local community and not some small group of disconnected business people. I also hope, when drafting the actual rules to the legislation, they consider the future- what happens when the gas reserve is depleted?