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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 leases).

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.