35-mile fluid leak: another fracking accident
Published Oct 15, 2010 10:10 PM
In what is but the latest in an all-too-long and frequent string of
environmental accidents involving natural gas drilling, a section of highway
near the town of Hughesville, Pa., located in the upper Susquehanna River
Valley was closed Oct. 9 after a low-boy trailer leaked an undetermined amount
of frack fluid.
According to police the spill extended as far as 35 to 40 miles. Fluid was
leaking from one of a dozen 100-gallon containers on the trailer as it traveled
on the highway from Dimock, Pa.
The Williamsport, Pa., Sun-Gazette, which appears to be the only other
newspaper covering the spill, quoted Hughesville Police Chief Jason Gill
saying, “It’s not hazardous at all until it mixes with water, then
it becomes as slippery as ice.” (Oct. 9)
The paper noted that Gill “said it was unknown how much liquid leaked
because all of the containers on the trailer contained various amounts of
However, Gill, who is not a scientist, doesn’t raise questions about how
many other cars or trucks may have driven through the chemical fluid, or how
much fluid might have run off into area creeks, storm drains or ground water
Nor does Gill ask the most critical question: What toxic or carcinogenic
chemicals may have been contained in this undiluted fluid? Since the drilling
industry is not required to disclose the chemical composition of fracking
fluid, no one knows for sure.
In fact, the gas drilling industry frequently dismisses growing public concerns
about the danger of the chemicals used in their drilling process, claiming that
the chemicals are only 1 percent of the mix of million of gallons of water and
sand used in hydraulic fracking. In the case of the Hughesville spill, the
chemicals were 100 percent.
Workers who are assigned to clean up this mess could face exposure to toxic or
cancer-causing chemicals. Other drivers whose vehicles came into contact with
this spill could unknowingly have carried chemicals to their homes. Are the
police and state agencies issuing adequate warnings?
Damage to protected wetlands
The Hughesville spill occurred on the same day that the Pennsylvania Department
of Environmental Protection fined a Marcellus Shale driller $40,000. The
driller, Seneca Resources Corp., had illegally built a nearly one-acre
impoundment for used drilling fluid on “exceptional value” wetlands
in the Tioga State Forest near Wellsboro, Pa. The company was also cited for
causing “sediment runoff by failing to institute erosion control best
management practices.” (Sun-Gazette, Oct. 9)
In June an explosion at a well owned by EOG Resource Inc. in Clearfield County,
90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, resulted in a 16-hour natural gas and
drilling fluid leak into nearby Moshannon State Forest, forcing the evacuation
In September 2009 a series of spills at a well site run by Cabot Oil and Gas
near Dimock, Pa., leaked up to 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid into a nearby
creek, causing a major fish kill. Dimock residents, who filed a lawsuit against
Cabot for contaminating their water wells in 2008, are still fighting to have
the company pick up the tab for a replacement municipal water system.
Challenging industry safety claims
Writer Sharon Kahkonen challenges the impartiality of the gas industry when it
comes to the safety of hydraulic fracking. (Ithaca Journal, Sept. 25)
Kahkonen writes: “Representatives of the gas industry have too much
vested interest in this issue, and frankly, it is not their job to evaluate the
safety of hydrofracking. Their job is to maximize profits for their
“Representatives from the gas industry claim hydrofracking is a
60-year-old technology with a proven safety record, and ‘there has never
been a documented case of ground water contamination from
Kahkonen refers to studies done by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, an engineer at
Cornell University who has been researching fracturing mechanics for 33 years.
Ingraffea contends that the more recent practice of horizontal hydrofracking
used in New York and Pennsylvania is very different from vertical hydrofracking
done in the past.
When industry representatives claim there have been no documented cases of
ground water contamination due to hydrofracking, Kahkonen notes that Ingraffea
suggests “they are referring to the actual event of pumping water under
high pressure into shale deep underground in order to crack it. This singular
event may not be the major threat to our water resources. The real threat may
be from fracking fluids near ground level.”
Once out of the ground, fracking fluids, laced with toxic chemicals as well as
radioactive elements, are held in temporary lagoons at the pad site.
“Even with the most leak-proof liners, these lagoons are apt to overflow
in areas of heavy rainfall, like in the Northeast,” Kahkonen states.
She concludes: “Any honest, thoughtful person would have to agree that
horizontal hydrofracking does pose a real threat to our water resources and
should not be allowed to proceed until the industry can come up with real
solutions. The stakes are too high.”
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