Is fracking Chattanooga Shale worth it?

Source: Sierra Club
Source: Sierra Club

Should Atlas Energy be allowed to fracture the limestone bedrock that makes up the shallow Chattanooga Shale for 50 gas wells?  Limestone is porous, hence radon, a type of radioactive decay seeps up through the ground to gather in crawl spaces under houses in the area.  Fracking chemicals like ethylene glycol and radioactive wastewater will also seep out through porous limestone and contaminate ground water.   Is it worth the risk of compromising our health and the health of our environment?

It’s worth pointing out that hydraulic fracturing is a new technology that allows gas drillers to make L-shaped turns at the bottom of wells and proceed horizontally to fracture rock for miles below the ground surface.  Fracking has not been proven to be safe and in fact, has shown early signs of being just the opposite.  It has been embraced in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Dakota.

But, the push for “energy independence” is on and no matter what the cost to our health and environment, the goal will be obtained.  Or, will it?  Just look at “Kuwait on the prairie” in North Dakota to see what the result of our unrelenting push for “energy independence” looks like.  It’s really an arrogant idea, considering that we’re all co-dependent on the Earth to sustain us and all life on the planet.

I was born at a time when fears over “peak oil” dominated the headlines.   That was when gas was only a fraction of a dollar per gallon.  Today, places on earth with natural oil abundance are besieged by wars and threats of wars.  And, the poorest 2 billion of Earth’s 7 billion human beings are starving.  That’s almost 1/4 of all homosapiens.

Meanwhile, the people who inhabit the U.S. make up 5% of the world’s population and consume 25% of the world’s resources.  Consumption really matters here.   Just ask television commercials and Walmart.

And, there’s this belief that more is better.  The economy must grow every year in order for capitalism to work.  But, how is that possible?   U.S. unemployment numbers are still way up.   The U.S. Government is 1 trillion dollars in debt to China and U.S. officials have decided it’s a great idea to repay our debt by providing China with U.S. natural resources, namely natural gas from hydraulically fractured shale, the very bedrock beneath our feet.

Meanwhile, reports of mysterious loud booms are ongoing, under reported and unexplained.  And farms near fracking sites report strange anamolies, like cow’s tails falling off.  Shallow earthquakes have also been reported near fracking well sites.  And, the USGS admits that fracking wastewater is radioactive.

But, the new, unproven technology has taken off since the current administration opened up U.S. Public Lands to hydraulic frackers.  This technology was also exempted in 2005 from the Clean Water Safety Act, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.   Will tar sands and pipelines restore “energy independence” in America?  If so, at what cost?

We might really have a shot at “energy independence” if we could figure out how to turn all of the radioactive waste created by fracking and nuclear industries into fuel.  The DOE suggests that we should make silverware from the ever growing pile of radioactive waste.

Once it’s fracked, it’s fracked.  Here are some recent reports about fracking in Tennessee.

Knox News reported that the University of Tn. at Knoxville would allow its lands to be fracked.  Here are some finer points from the article published in late 2012:

Tennessee’s Chattanooga shale is shallow — about 3,000 feet deep — and companies often use nitrogen rather than water to extract the gas, according to officials at UT and the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation.”

There were 824 active wells producing gas across the state of Tennessee last year, and 320 of them were in Morgan and Scott counties, according to estimates from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.”

Most are shallow oil wells, and there have been only about 70 applications for horizontal wells in the history of the state, said Jonathon Burr, a scientist with TDEC.

Tennessee’s Chattanooga shale, which is thinner and shallower than the Marcellus shale in the Northeast, is most prevalent in the Cumberland Mountains and Plateau, but gets thinner and less viable toward the middle part of the state.”

Pam Sohn also covered the story for the Times Free Press, in an article entitled,” University of Tennessee eyes fracking on state property.”  She writes:

“Environmental groups around the state are outraged that the University of Tennessee is proposing to lease more than 8,636 acres of public land in East Tennessee to an energy company looking to do hydraulic fracturing for oil or gas.”

Sohn calls the UTK fracking idea the “quietly talked proposal”.   She writes:

..The quietly talked proposal — which surfaced as a UT research effort in December — has now been fast-tracked with little public discussion, and it now is on Thursday’s agenda of the executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center is concerned with fracking regulations in 6 Southern states:

“As pressure mounts to tap into southeastern shale deposits, SELC is working on multiple fronts in our six states to prevent fracking in special natural areas like our national forests; to keep or put tough regulatory safeguards in place; and to head off the damage to public health, natural resources, rural countryside, and communities that has plagued other regions.”

SELC writes this about Tennessee:

“Oil and gas wells are not new to the Cumberland Plateau, but many more are expected to crop up now that fracking has made it feasible to reach untapped natural gas reservoirs. To head off problems that have occurred in other states, Tennessee’s environmental agency has proposed revisions to its oil and gas drilling regulations, but they do not go far enough to protect water and wildlife. High among SELC’s recommendations to the agency is to demand full, upfront disclosure of the chemicals and fracking fluids drilling companies will use, which is not required under federal law.

Do Tennessee’s new regulations demand disclosure?  No.  Appalachian Voices published this article on Tennessee’s new rules for fracking:

“New fracking rules in the Volunteer State will have little to no effect on the state’s emerging natural gas drilling operations, the Tennessee Clean Water Network says. According to the new Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation rules, the public will be notified of new fracking only if the operation’s water use will exceed 200,000 gallons more more, although no current or proposed fracking sites are close to meeting that threshold. Prior to TDEC’s
finalization of the rules, environmental and citizen groups proposed numerous changes, including lowering the threshold water use, extending public comment periods, prohibiting chemicals such as diesel fuel in fracking fluids and extending the proximity protection for drilling near homes from 200 feet to 1000 feet. TDEC rejected the citizens’ proposal, and passed the new rules at the Oil and Gas Board meeting on Sept. 28. For more information, visit: tcwn.org/frack.”

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