Monday, March 19, 2012

Good News On the Energy Front – Faulty Wells Responsible for Ground Water Pollution

Really – No Kidding – This is Good News

For reasons that are totally unclear Republicans (and some Democrats) seem to believe that while the U. S. should not pass a massive public debt on to our children, there is no problem with passing on massive pollution in order to provide the current generation with cheap energy.  The current issue is how to develop the large natural gas deposits, mostly in the northeast, that can only be developed with deep wells and a process called ‘fracking’.

Fracking requires the injection of high pressure water and chemicals into a gas well to break the gas free of the rock and sediment that it is entrapped in.  Many people, particularly those who live in gas well areas are complaining that the processes pollutes the ground water, means that their source of water for their homes is becoming polluted.  But at least one analysis is finding that fracking is not the causes of gas pollution into the aquifer system.


Some energy companies, state regulators, academics and environmentalists are reaching consensus that natural-gas drilling has led to several incidents of water pollution—but not because of fracking.

So what is the problem and why is it good news.  It turns out there is substantial evidence that the problem is poor well construction, primarily involving the concrete that is used to seal well pipe.

Mark Boling, executive vice president and general counsel of Southwestern Energy Co., a major natural-gas producer, said he has examined several incidents in Colorado and Pennsylvania where gas drilling appears to have caused gas to get into drinking water. "Every one we identified was caused by a failure of the integrity of the well, and almost always it

Ok, right, this Forum is not going to believe a member of the natural gas industry either.  However here is strong anecdotal evidence from one situation, where pollution occurred even before fracking took place.

One of the largest documented instances of water contamination occurred in Bradford County, Pa.—after wells had been drilled but before any fracking took place. Chesapeake Energy Corp., the nation's second largest natural-gas company, has conceded that poor well construction may have played a role in high levels of natural gas found in local aquifers, according to letters to state regulators.

A state investigation concluded Chesapeake failed to cement its wells adequately, allowing gas to leak from pipes into the groundwater. Chesapeake agreed to pay $900,000 in fines and payments to the state, but never publicly acknowledged it caused the problem. In a news release last May, it said the investigation was "inconclusive." The company recently declined further comment, citing pending landowner lawsuits.

And while several major environmental groups still oppose the practice of fracking, there is support from one prominent environmental group.

Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser with the Environmental Defense Fund who is working with Mr. Boling, agreed. "The groundwater pollution incidents that have come to light to date have all been caused by well construction problems," he said.

And the good news is that this is a fixable problem.  At little bit of money and a good dose of inspection and regulation should do the job.  Of course, regulation being the bane of Conservatives may mean that meaningful regulation will not take place.  In that case one could say the Conservatives who always express concern about the burden this generation is placing on future generations don’t mean what they say. 

 But actually, their opposition to regulating well construction is not needed to make that statement, it can be made based on overwhelming evidence from other issues.

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