A Tale of Fracking Woes

Is Chesapeake evil?  (Photo from pegasusnews.com)
Chesapeake Energy and other drilling companies that frack have no regard for quality of life in the areas where they drill, according to a recent article from corporatecrimereporter.com.

The site attacks Chesapeake in particular and the oil and gas industry in general throughout the article, citing Wetzel County resident Rose Baker.

Baker says that her quality of life has gone from a 10 to a 3 because of the fracking activity in her area, and that government officials are too corrupt to do the right thing and stop the drilling companies.  The article also states as a fact that fracking has polluted Baker's drinking water, despite offering no scientific support for the claim (the EPA is testing the water in Wetzel County).

More of Baker's story can be found on frackban.org, where a presentation she gave at an anti-fracking meeting is detailed.  Click through to the jump to read about her presentation, and then share your thoughts in the forum.  Is any of the noise coming from activists enough to change your opinion on fracking?

Wetzel County Fracking PresentationWetzel County Fracking Presentation
On the evening of January 21 at the Great Cacapon Elementary School in Morgan County (WV), Rose Baker, a long-term resident of Wetzel County (WV), conducted a presentation on the impact gas fracking has had on Wetzel County (WV). In her presentation, Rose discussed facts and relevant issues and presented evidence in the form of photographic slides about the experiences she, her neighbors, and other local residents have had during the five years gas fracking has taken place in that county. Approximately 50 Morgan County residents attended the presentation.Gas fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method for extracting natural gas found in and beneath layers of shale rock. It entails drilling vertically thousands of feet deep to reach the shale, drilling horizontally for up to a mile after reaching the shale, injecting fracking fluid containing water laced with sand and chemicals into the well at high pressure to produce shale fractures through which gas may escape, and removing as much as possible of the used fracking fluid (fracking waste) from the well. Recovered fracking waste typically is stored in open pits or tanks until it is trucked off for processing or permanent storage in a prepared well.  On average, a single fracking procedure uses a million or more gallons of water and 80 to 300 tons of chemicals and never recovers 30% to 50% of the fracking waste. Gas extracted by fracking comes up the well along with water that has been trapped in underground reservoirs, any hydrocarbons or radioactivity that water was exposed to, and any fracking chemicals reaching that water or remaining in the well. The gas is separated from the water and hydrocarbons in water separators and condensate tanks, respectively, located on or near the well pad. The separated gas is directed to an onsite compressor station, which pushes the gas through pipelines for transport to off-site areas. The separated water is taken to a refinery (“cracker”), where it is processed for other products (e.g., plastics).
Fracking operations require level sites for the well pad, condensate tanks, fresh water-holding pond, and temporary fracking waste storage; involve installation of gas pipelines and intermittent compressor stations along the pipelines; and use a vast amount of equipment and supplies (e.g., land-preparation, construction, and drilling machinery; water, sand, gravel, cinders, cement, etc. for constructing well pads and roadbeds to the well pads; water, sand, chemicals, pumps, compressors, pipes, tanks, etc. to produce, transport, or store fracking products and waste). Equipment and supplies are hauled in and fracking waste and byproducts are hauled out primarily via large diesel-powered trucks. Much of the equipment used for site preparation and fracking operations also runs on diesel fuel. To begin fracking on any property, a gas company must own or lease the mineral rights for that property and must obtain permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). For a mineral-rights lease, a property-owner may receive $3000 or more per acre at signing as well as royalties for gas extracted from wells on the property. If a gas company owns the mineral rights, a property-owner may be offered a one-time fee of $15,000 or more for surface rights.
In Rose’s presentation, she reported that 33 gas well pads are concentrated in a small area in the northern part of Wetzel County where she lives. Typically, the well pads have been constructed on 5-acre to 8-acre plots and the wells are less than 2000 feet apart. Chesapeake Energy, the main gas company operating in this area, has acquired 140 more permits for wells in a 30 square-mile area of the county. It has been common practice for small land service companies to purchase mineral rights from property-owners as cheaply as possible and sell them to gas companies at a much higher price. This practice swindles property-owners out of the rightful value of their mineral rights. 
Rose stated that preparation for fracking in the rural and mountainous county began with mountain top removal and deforestation involving burning. All the fresh water-holding ponds were put on the tops of hills. In fact, most of the level areas needed for fracking operations were prepared on slopes, but measures to prevent erosion have yet to be taken for any of these areas. Due to inadequate preparation, repeated land slips (land slides) have occurred, particularly around fresh water-holding ponds, gas well pads, and fracking waste pits. Over time, 27 of the 33 well pads have slipped. Land slips pose high potential for contaminating ground water when involving land situated beneath or around structures that house toxic materials, such as well-pad site condensate tanks or fracking waste pits. In addition, gas pipelines from each well-pad extend across the countryside and have involved clearing more land. Installing pipelines requires obtaining a right-of-way but has not been well-regulated. There also have been several pipeline explosions. The practices of gas venting and flaring (burning) to reduce gas pressure reduce the risk of explosion but also pollute the air and waste gas. Flaring can go on for up to 10 days, although it has gone on for as long as five months in another WV county and also produces additional noise. Even more destruction of the natural environment has occurred with the methods for getting water to fresh water holding-ponds. Water is piped from creeks and rivers to the holding-ponds. One stream was completely destroyed and filled in with gravel. Following local pressure, the state’s DEP required that the gas company restore the stream.  In contrast, nothing on fracking sites is restored when gas wells no longer produce gas.  Most of the county’s wells lose 80% of the gas-producing capacity in the first year of operation. When a well produces no more gas, it is abandoned with highly flammable condensate tanks left on site and no attempt at restoration.
Since the beginning of land preparation, truck traffic has been heavy in Wetzel County. During drilling and fracking procedures, truck traffic can be expected 24 hours a day seven days a week. For any given well, drilling may continue for three weeks to three months, and fracking may continue for three months and may be repeated again up to 18 times. For a single fracking procedure, 1500 tractor trailers travel to the fracking site each day! The drilling, fracking, and truck traffic all contribute to excessive noise. Moreover, on the narrow rural roads of the county, the excessive truck traffic has led to extreme driving delays, increased driving hazard and accidents, and drastic damage to local roads. There is so much traffic, residents often can’t get to their homes or other places, and tempers flare between local drivers and fracking truckers. Accidents often entail large fracking equipment or toxic fracking material spewing off trucks. In these accidents, it takes several hours to clean up the road. The state Department of Highways could not keep up with the damage to local roads. Now, Chesapeake Energy maintains most access roads to fracking sites and pays for drivers to escort heavy truck traffic and school buses through such traffic. Nevertheless, the excess traffic and noise continue.
Other problems fracking has brought to Wetzel County include air, water, and light pollution. Air quality has deteriorated due to site-preparation burning, sand dust, cinder dust, diesel fumes, emissions off condensate tanks, gas venting and flaring, and numerous gas fires and explosions. All of these sources of air contamination are clearly visible in Rose’s photographic slides and cannot easily be disputed. On several properties, well water is contaminated and no longer suitable for any use. Affected property-owners must haul in fresh water themselves. The source(s) of water contamination cannot be proven, but highly suspect sources include slipping or other compromise of fracking waste pits, escape of fracking fluid through compromised gas wells or shale fractures, and spills of fracking chemicals, diesel fuel, or other toxic material. In all these cases, contaminants could seep into ground water. Chesapeake Energy claims that water contamination cannot clearly be attributed to anything related to fracking since absence of water contamination prior to fracking cannot be proven. To avoid this debate and allow compensation, Rose strongly recommended conducting baseline water testing before fracking preparations and operations begin. Additionally, lighting at well pads and from fracking equipment and vehicles resembles that of small cities and diffuses the sky with artificial light that prevents seeing the stars.      
Despite the heavy gas industry presence in Wetzel County, this county has the highest unemployment rate in WV.  Job positions for fracking preparations and operations require skilled and experienced workers. Gas companies undertaking fracking in Wetzel County have imported experienced workers from other states for most positions and have hired relatively few locals, only for positions such as excavating, truck driving, or escorting truck traffic or school buses. Due to the high number of trucks and imported workers, patronage has increased at some local businesses, particularly  gas stations, motels, campgrounds, restaurants, and grocery stores, which have increased the number of local employees to accommodate the increase in customers. However, most newly-hired positions in these businesses pay low wages.
Since fracking began in Wetzel County, property values have plummeted by 50% but property taxes have increased. Only oil companies, generally the same companies responsible for gas fracking, are purchasing the properties where fracking has taken place. Some mortgage companies, including Fannie May and Freddie Mac, won’t mortgage such properties. Although insurance companies have not yet refused to insure these properties, a recent statement from State Farm suggests that this practice is about to begin.
Finally, Wetzel County now is fraught with family and community disharmony. Feuding is common within families and among county residents. Some family members no longer speak to other family members. The feuding involves the benefits versus the problems brought by fracking. Payment for mineral and surface rights can be highly enticing in today’s economy and may be viewed by some as a great or only solution to their own financial plight. Chesapeake Energy also gives money to local fire companies, money that can be used for any special equipment and training needed to fight gas fires and explosions. Further, fracking increases local business and does provide or lead to some jobs for locals. People who have benefitted by or focus on any of these aspects of fracking are feuding with those who focus on or have been harmed by the ruination of the natural environment, the contamination of air and water, the excessive traffic and noise, and/or the negative impact on property values and taxes.          
Overall, Rose Baker’s presentation was an eye-opening education on the problems inherent with gas fracking. The Wetzel County experience is an important lesson for Morgan County, where the possibility of gas fracking has become a local issue. Morgan County attendees asked many questions, and several signed the petition to ban fracking in Morgan County before leaving for the night.
 Patty Heaphy

Read the original article and this organization's other material at frackban.org.

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