Our excellent young female guest writer Juliette Zephyr shows up for another guest post about a subject that has unfortunately been neglected on this blog.
Fracked Gas Exports
by Juliette Zephyr
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you have heard of the disturbing prevalence of a natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” all across the country. It’s been happening in rural areas, where residents have to cope with the effects it has on their groundwater as well as the air quality. In Pennsylvania, the problem got so out of hand that it inspired a groundbreaking documentary, Gasland (2010), which highlights the grim consequences of this dirty method of extracting fuels.
The percentage of fracked gas actually kept and sold in the U.S. is marginal – after the fuel is fracked, it is then typically sent for export to countries in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Anywhere corporations have undertaken fracking projects, the result has been very real and large-scale contamination of surrounding water and air. Yet corporate powers lobby for more projects in states that can ill afford the environmental upheaval, the destruction of plant and animal habitats, and the pollution of the area that would ensue.
Shale basins in this country which contain natural gas are especially vulnerable to opportunistic corporations which will try to convince a local jurisdiction that taking advantage of these natural resources would lead to more jobs for Americans and less reliance on foreign oil.
Anyone who tries to come forward with an alternate view is silenced, with groups such as Marcellus Shale Earth First being targeted by the government as a “terrorist group,” and victims of water and air contamination being labeled and dismissed as delusional nutcases. Since it doesn’t appear that such projects are creating new jobs for Americans or helping us to rely less on foreign oil, it seems that the only authentic benefit of exporting these fuels is the profit reaped by oil companies.
In layman’s terms, the process of fracking involves these three steps:
1. Drilling a fracking well. A well of sorts must be drilled into a geological formation, such as shale. A pipe is inserted in preparation for the Step 2.
2. Fracturing the rock/sediment/tight sands. Let us continue to use shale as an example. In order to fracture the shale rock, “fracking fluid” is pumped into the well. In addition to water and sand, this fracking fluid can contain up to 600 chemical additives. The high pressure injection of these chemicals eventually causes the rock to fracture.
3. Natural gas from the rock then flows back up the well.
This is what fracking is, in a nutshell. Studies show that more than 90% of fracking fluid remains underground, posing a threat to both the environment and drinking water used by locals. In rural communities such as Dimock, PA, footage online shows residents holding a lighter to a faucet of running water. The water stream then catches fire. There are unexplained ailments and health concerns cropping up in these places, symptoms which had not been seen in the community prior to the introduction of fracking wells.
Any fracking fluid that returns to the surface is called “flowback,” and can pollute the surrounding areas and threaten indigenous species and their habitats. Research has also determined that methane is a significant byproduct of fracking. In most cases, and certainly in Pennsylvania, methane leak rates into the atmosphere are occurring at 100-1,000 times what the EPA initially estimated.
Now, solely for the purposes of full disclosure, I, as a Maryland resident who resides where the Susquehanna River meets the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay, have a personal bias when it comes to my desire to see all fracking projects, both in my home state as well as the entire country, fail.
I live in a natural scenic area, marred only by a nearly nuclear power plant, that attracts tourists year-round. The Chesapeake Bay is already extremely polluted, and any export facilities on the bay would be a catastrophe. I lament that our own governor, Martin O’Malley, is planning to approve an export terminal in Cove Point (southern Maryland), which would be situated right on the bay. It would be the first of its kind here on the East Coast.
As bay ecologists are observing, any fracking chemicals present in one part of the bay are going to turn up in other parts of the bay too. It is a perilous scenario. Even more ghastly, experts have issued warnings that the proposed facility could be at risk for serious fires and explosions because of the explosive chemicals required to liquefy the gas.
This area has residential neighborhoods, schools, and businesses. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has rubber-stamped the project, which is being managed by a Virginia-based company called Dominion Resources. Fracked gas from Appalachia is going to be liquefied and then sent for export right here on the water. It will apparently end up in Asia when all is said and done. For people in our area, this has turned into a battle that no one wanted to fight, but FERC and these Dominion scumbags have forced our hand.