Rise in fracking accidents prompts anti-drilling rallies
Published Dec 4, 2010 11:18 AM
Contrary to gas drilling industry claims that hydraulic fracturing is
“accident free,” Texas-based XTO Energy has racked up 31 violations
at 20 wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania in 2010.
XTO’s latest accident involved a leak of up to 13,000 gallons of
chemically contaminated drilling wastewater that polluted a stream and a spring
in north-central Pennsylvania’s Lycoming County, says the state’s
Department of Environmental Protection. The leak was caused by a valve which
was left open.
In June, Exxon paid $30 billion to merge with XTO Energy, making Exxon/XTO the
largest natural gas producer in the U.S.
Hydraulic fracturing involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and
chemicals into wells to break apart shale and release natural gas. The
wastewater that returns to the surface is a toxic, sometimes radioactive,
sludge containing sulfates, benzene, chloride, toluene and other chemicals used
in the fracking process.
Accidents like the one in Lycoming County occur at the rate of nearly one a day
at wells across the Marcellus Shale, which spans the states of Pennsylvania,
New York, West Virginia and Ohio.
A Scripps Howard News Service investigation of the drilling industry over the
last decade found 1,972 violations for pollution and contamination in Ohio.
Pennsylvania officials have issued 8,309 industry-related violations since
2007. The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association found 1,056 serious environmental
violations tied to drilling in the shale between the start of 2008 and Aug. 20
of this year. Gas companies improperly sealed their wells 50 times, potentially
causing gas to migrate into groundwater.
“There’s so many more violations that we’re trying to keep on
top of,” said Jamie Legenos, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department
of Environmental Protection. (Scripps News, Nov. 18). One problem the
investigation notes is the lack of proper paperwork or follow-up due to
understaffed oversight agencies.
The lack of federal and state regulations contributes to this problem, with
drilling companies frequently ignoring local laws intended to limit the
environmental impact. In the last three years, the natural gas industry has
tripled state campaign contributions to guarantee election of pro-drilling
candidates like Pennsylvania’s governor-elect, Tom Corbett.
This has prompted anti-drilling activists to sound the alarm and increase their
mobilizing activities against fracking.
Gas Truth of Central Pennsylvania is calling for an inauguration day rally
against “Toxic Tom” on Jan. 18 in Harrisburg, the state capital.
Rally demands include a moratorium on further drilling in the state; regular
inspections of existing wells; disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking;
and no “forced pooling” (allowing gas companies to drill when
properties border those with existing wells even if landowners refuse to sign
A “warm-up” rally is planned for Dec. 6 in Wellsboro, Pa., where
former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security chief, Tom Ridge, is
“shilling for drilling” at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Ridge,
now a drilling industry consultant, is suspected of being behind recent spying
on anti-drilling activists by the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response
under a no-bid contract with the Pennsylvania Homeland Security.
Wellsboro, in Tioga County, was also the site of a 35-mile spill of fracking
fluids along a highway in October.
Under capitalism, the drive for profits overtakes everything, including
protection of the environment. It is important that both upcoming rallies will
target corporate greed as the factor behind the public policies that are
affecting the water, land and air in the state.
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