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Unnatural Problems with Natural Gas

S. T., Futurism Now
August 5th, 2009

For anyone who thinks natural gas is clean (it’s not) and safe (it’s not) and green (are you kidding?) this story will add to the truth about it. Leaks during drilling continue to happen and terrify the people who live near where they happen.

Hydrolic Fracturing - Graphic by Al Granberg

People like T. Boone Pickens continue to push their personal money-making and investment plans for natural gas on the public. Unfortunately, many of the things people repeat about natural gas are simply not true. It is not the clean fuel of the future. It’s a finite fossil fuel that will run out. It emits carbon dioxide when used as fuel. It contributes to global warming. Claims that natural gas is “clean” are called “greenwashing.” Clean power is solar, wind, geothermal, and solar thermal. They are renewable forms of energy — natural gas is not. And natural gas has another unique set of problems. It it obtained via a drilling process called “hydraulic fracturing” or fracking. This process has been accused of contaminating water, introducing toxins into the environment, and even causing earthquakes. Halliburton has patented a form of fracturing and they won’t even reveal what chemicals are used in the process. And yes, natural gas endangers ground water supplies. The U.S. water supply is already at great risk due to pollution and farm run-off. The basic procedure of fracking is easy to understand.

“Hydraulic fracturing is a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas. Scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing may pose a threat either underground or when waste fluids are handled and sometimes spilled on the surface.”

Recently in Pennsylvania (Aug. 5), environment officials investigated another natural gas well leak, after residents near the town of Roaring Branch complained last month that rust-colored water was flowing from a spring and two small creeks were bubbling with methane gas.

The incident is the latest in a string of more than 50 similar cases related to gas drilling in the state, and such events were more frequent than officials said.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, at least four homes in the rural north-central part of Lycoming County are now being supplied with drinking water and 18 are having their water tested or their homes monitored for gas while the investigation continues. At least one woman was temporarily evacuated from her home last week as a precaution, according to Robert Yowell, north-central regional director for the DEP’s oil and gas bureau.

Officials suspect that a well casing on one of three natural gas wells drilled by East Resources failed, allowing the gas to migrate into the ground and the streams, according to Yowell and a statement e-mailed to ProPublica from DEP headquarters. The wells were drilled into the Oriskany geologic formation, not the Marcellus shale, where much of the state’s new development is targeted. The department is analyzing water and gas samples and has promised to post the results on the DEP Web site by the end of the week.

According to Yowell, the company has temporarily shut down the suspected problem well by filling it with drilling mud, a slurry of the waste produced from the drilling of the well hole, and has been working to reduce pent-up pressure inside its wells that could be forcing stray gas out of cracks in the casing. To release that pressure, East Resources flared — or burned off gas — from two of the suspected wells.

“It looked like the sky was on fire,” said Margaret Yaggie, a Roaring Branch resident who can sit on her porch and see the East Resources wells a few miles away. Yaggie said the flames stretched hundreds of feet and carried fumes and smoke. “It’s above the trees, on the side of a mountain. It looks like hell.”