Water worries surface from Marcellus deep gas wells
Drilling in the Marcellus shale will have an impact far beyond what is normally seen with conventional gas well drilling. In contrast to conventional wells, sites for deep wells span three-to-five acres.
Deep drilling, using horizontal well techniques and hydraulic fracturing, could place heavy demands on local water supplies. Thousands of gallons of chemicals used for fracturing could be left behind.
Our neighbors to the north are now grappling with these issues, and asking, what are the hidden costs?
News reports throughout Pennsylvania and New York have surfaced detailing concerns with deep well drilling in the shale. Most of the concerns are related to hydraulic fracturing of deep wells to extract natural gas. All along the Marcellus shale deposit, which extends 600 miles, communities are asking questions about the potential effects to their water supply.
New drilling sites are located near watersheds and residents fear water sources will be contaminated or drained.
Where will the water come from?
Where will the waste water produced end up?
Pocahontas County is home to eight rivers, with abundant clean and safe drinking water.
What will be the impact here?
One report from WNYC, New York City public radio, examines the potential effects from drilling in the Catskills. Proposed deep wells there would be drilled near the source of New York City's drinking water. Drilling in the Marcellus is quite different from conventional gas wells.
According to WNYC, the "gas in the Marcellus is held in tiny pockets, like bubbles in a brick of Swiss cheese. To extract it, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is shot into the earth with such explosive force that it fractures the rock, releasing the bubbles to the surface. Along with the gas comes most of the water that was shot down the well. But by the time the water re-surfaces, it is also laden with natural toxics from the shale layer below."
Water for fracking a well can be taken from land surrounding the well, nearby streams or rivers, or it can be trucked in from off site. A typical deep well would require between 1-6 million gallons of water to successfully fracture the shale.
How much water is that?
According to recent flow rates, the Greenbrier River was flowing at 103 cubic feet per second. One cubic foot equals about eight gallons of water.
If one well drew water for hydraulic fracturing from the Greenbrier, the river would be dry for nearly two hours or more.
Waste water that emerges out of the well can be held in an evaporation pond, diluted and injected into the ground or hauled to an off site treatment plant. Water trucked in from off site requires hundreds of truckloads per well.
As many trucks would also be required to take wastewater to a treatment facility. Due to the cost of transport, companies find it more cost effective to use water close to the well and to store wastewater on site when possible.
These evaporation ponds or wastewater pits have their own potential hazards.
In Wyoming, wastes in an evaporation pit seeped into the ground and contaminated drinking water wells. After numerous citizen complaints, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the affected region a Superfund site, requiring the soil to be removed and treated, while residents were provided with an alternative source of drinking water.
There was ample cause for concern.
The wastewater from fracking may contain a variety of contaminants such as benzene, phenols, toluene and xylene, salts, metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM).
The EPA states that many chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluids are linked to human health effects. These effects include cancer; liver, kidney, brain, respiratory and skin disorders; birth defects; and other health problems.
"Open pits used to store wastes pose a health threat to livestock and wildlife. The wastes often contain hydrocarbons, and seepages from waste pits may contaminate soils, ground- water and surface watercourses. If open pits are used, they should be lined, with a leak detection system, to prevent seepages. And the pits should be fenced-in, and nets or other devices installed to prevent birds and wildlife from coming in contact with the wastes," according to the Oil and Gas Accountability Project Report on Drinking Water Risk, www.ogap.org
According to WNYC's investigation, "DEC's current regulations require only that produced waste be treated before being discharged back into rivers. Agency officials said the water would be shipped to Pennsylvania and treated in specialized plants there.
Paul Hart, president of Hart Resource Technologies, which owns and operates three of the region's five facilities, said his company can't even build plants fast enough to handle Pennsylvania's drilling expansion."
New York and other states are just now coming to grips with the potential issues associated with drilling in the Marcellus.
Chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are considered a trade secret, and companies are not obligated by the federal government to divulge the contents of their fracturing solution.ﾠ In most cases, citizens must sample and test the wastewater pits to determine what chemicals are being used.
Journalists in New York found that companies applying for permits in their state could drill without specifying where they would obtain the massive amount of water needed for each well.
If drilling begins in Pocahontas County, where will the water come from and where will it go?
These questions are waiting for answers.