Westmoreland sets no-fracking strategy

I applaud the Board of Supervisors (BOS) of Westmoreland County for taking an extremely sound, well-thought-out position. The two step approach should be the model that every County in the Taylorsville Basin follows. And I applaud the FLS Editorial Staff for supporting this decision, stating “We would urge the other three Taylorsville Basin counties to follow their neighbors’ lead.” There are, however more than 3 Counties in the Taylorsville Basin, as it runs northwest from the City of Richmond to Baltimore. Currently almost 86,000 acres are under leases for fracking, mostly in King George, Caroline, Westmoreland, Essex, and King and Queen Counties. All of these Counties need to act in concert to ban fracking, because if just one county contaminates the waters under them, they affect all the counties.

King George County was the first in the Taylorsville Basin to restrict fracking in 2016, but they stopped short of considering an outright ban, largely because the Oil and Gas (O&G) industry has threatened to sue Counties if they ban fracking. Multiple industry representatives attended the King George BOS meeting where restrictive ordinances were approved. Augusta County in northwest Virginia was the first to ban fracking, followed by Richmond County. So far, no lawsuits have materialized. Supposedly, an O&G industry spokesperson stated recently that they have no interest in fracking in the Taylorsville Basin because of all the regulations in place that make it too difficult to frack there. I wouldn’t believe that, nor would I sit back and relax.

There are other common sense things that should be done now, rather than wait until oil and gas prices spike, like they would if war broke out in the Middle East. Case in point, state-wide regulations need to be updated, following the model each of the Counties have adopted. Those regulations should reflect the latest information on health and environmental issues caused by fracking. These things should be looked at now, before any fracking is allowed. For instance:

  1. The Potomac Aquifer is being drained at about 5 times its recharge rate. So Virginia regulations should unequivocally state that no water can be removed from the aquifer for fracking. Water that is used becomes toxic and cannot be cleaned by any water treatment plants in Virginia. So strict measures should be put in place to ensure that any water that is used must be held in above-ground tanks and disposed of in an environmentally sound method. Remember, fracking is exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, so we cannot rely on those laws to ensure that toxic water is properly disposed of. Each frack uses between 4 and 6 million gallons of water each time the well is fracked; and wells can be fracked multiple times.
  2. Virginia should study the issue of earthquakes and fracking in the Basin, because to the west is the Lake Anna nuclear power plant and to the northeast is the Calvert Hills nuclear power plant. We need to ensure that the geology of the Taylorsville Basin doesn’t turn Virginia into another Oklahoma?
  3. Regulations need to be based on available science, not based on a motive that puts companies ahead of residents, as is currently the case. For instance, what is the appropriate set-back distance from “resource protection areas,” such as wetlands, houses, schools and public and private wells? Is 200 feet enough? 500 feet? 2 miles? A recent study in the journal Science Advances concluded that babies born within two miles of fracking sites are more likely to have low birth weights and thus health problems throughout their life.

Much of the pro-fracking positions taken are scientifically incorrect, relying on partial truths and twisted logic. For example:

  1. “There is no reason why the US can’t be energy self-sufficient”. This position completely ignores the obvious – we can be energy independent without relying on fossil fuels.
  2. “We need to ‘drill, baby, drill’ because if we don’t extract American O&G, we are giving money to countries that, by and large, do not like us.” Absolutely correct, except that we can stop giving money to countries that hate us by shifting away from fossil fuels to renewables.
  3. “Natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal, so switching to natural gas reduces the amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) we release into the atmosphere.” Burning coal releases more GHGs into the atmosphere than burning natural gas – true. But when you consider the full life cycle of natural gas, it turns out that both are equally bad. Methane gas is 86 times more potent in warming the planet than CO2. Methane gas escapes in every part of the extraction process, beginning at the drilling site, through transportation through pipelines, until it is ultimately loaded into the burn site. Should we continue to build out a fossil fuel infrastructure in Virginia by building pipelines and drilling wells? Or should we migrate away from our dependence on fossil fuels to renewables, like wind and solar? The answer is simple and clear – we should focus our efforts on building renewable energy sources. It is a specious argument to imply that the only way we can be energy independent is via fossil fuels.

Climate change is real, is imminent, is caused by humanity, and is fixable if we act.

The Heritage Foundation is now proposing a really radical stance, with no basis in scientific research or fact. Their position – more CO2 in the atmosphere is good for the planet. That is simply nonsense. Scientists have modeled the increase in global temperature caused by increasing GHGs in the atmosphere, and the results are really scary. They are also really obvious. As the atmosphere warms up, so do the oceans. Ice melts and slips into the sea, causing the oceans to rise. As oceans warm, they expand, and that causes additional sea level rise. As the oceans absorb CO2, they become more acidic, harming the creatures that live there causing coral reefs, the nursery for marine life, to blanch and die.

The US military believes there is a nasty downside for US security, as naval bases like Norfolk flood and as people from flooded countries migrate elsewhere. Scientists have shown that recent storms have been exacerbated by global warming, like hurricanes, while long periods of drought and related wildfires come to areas where it hasn’t been much of a problem before. As the oceans heat up, weather patterns change, and severe and unpredictable weather events become the norm, not the exception. Hurricanes increase in strength, pouring unprecedented amounts of rain into coastal cities and towns, like New Orleans, New York City, and Norfolk. The cost to prevent this is astronomical, if the damage can even be prevented. Many Pacific Islands are sinking beneath the oceans and there is no antidote for that.

The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society publishes a roundup of studies investigating the influence of climate change on certain extreme weather events, like heat waves and floods. But this year marks the first time some of the papers concluded that an event could not have occurred in a world where global warming did not exist. The studies suggested that the record-breaking global temperatures in 2016, an extreme heat wave in Asia, and a patch of unusually warm water in the Alaskan Gulf were only possible because of human-caused climate change.

A claim that there was an 18-year hiatus in global warming, from 1998-2014 has been debunked, but is often pointed to by climate change deniers. The debate began when the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a study in 2015 stating that the global climate continues to warm. Many scientists objected, stating that the data corrections made by NOAA were wrong. This became ground zero for deniers. Subsequent studies showed that the NOAA report was accurate, and a currently-ongoing study has postulated that the increase was even more pronounced, because data from the Arctic was not fully used. When done so, it will show an even higher rate of warming. To finally nail the coffin shut, global temperatures have continuously increased since the mid-20th century. 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded, until 2015 exceeded that, only to be exceeded again in 2016, which became the hottest year ever recorded. 2017 is on track to be one of the top 3 years ever recorded. So the last 4 years have been the hottest years ever, since global temperatures have been captured.

Renewable energy is heavily subsided and cannot compete with fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are far cheaper than renewable sources, unless you consider the cost of all the problems caused by fossil fuels. A legitimate cost benefit analysis of fossil fuels versus renewables would consider the cost of providing the power, plus the cost of fixing the problems caused by fossil fuels. The O&G industry doesn’t want the latter considered, because it clearly pushes the cost of fossil fuels to unsupportable levels.

Fracking should be banned because it harms the health of residents.

Fracking causes damage to the health of residents living near well sites. Fracking leaks methane into the atmosphere when mined, transported, and loaded into power plants, and when it is burned, it releases CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s the assessment of virtually all climate scientists who are not paid to say deny the truth.

Recent science-based studies by health professionals have studied the environment around well sites, and the deleterious impact is well documented. See the article titled “New, Major Evidence That Fracking Harms Human Health”, published in theAtlantic.com based on the study published in Science Advances. That study “examined birth records for every child born in Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2013—more than 1.1 million infants in total—and looked at the mother’s proximity to a fracking site, using the state of Pennsylvania’s public inventory of fracking-well locations. They found significant, but very local, consequences. Infants born to mothers who lived within two miles of a fracking well are less healthy and more underweight than babies born to mothers who lived even a little further away.”

A very thorough analysis of fracking-caused health problems can be found in The Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (the Compendium), 4th edition, published in November 2016. That document formed the basis for NY’s decision to ban fracking within the state. The opening paragraph to the Compendium states: “(the Compendium) is a fully referenced compilation of the evidence outlining the risks and harms of fracking. Bringing together findings from the scientific and medical literature, government and industry reports, and journalistic investigation, it is a public, open-access document that is housed on the websites of Concerned Health Professionals of New York (www.concernedhealthny.org) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org).”

Fracking wells are time bombs waiting to explode.

According to Schlumberger, an industry-leading O&G exploration company, 5% of well sites fail in the first year, and 2/3rds fail within 15 years. That means failures in pipes, cement casings, joints, well barriers, etc., all of which allow methane gas and other toxic materials to leak out of confinement into the surrounding land and water. But this is just the beginning, because fracking wells are connected via pipelines, and they are prone to leakage and explosions from the pipes and compressor stations. See the link http://fracdallas.org/docs/pipelines.html which uses the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data from 2012, showing more than 80 natural gas pipeline explosions and fires in 2012, causing over $44,000,000 in damages. From 1986-2012, in Texas alone, there were 1,668 “significant incidents” causing 78 fatalities (14.6% of all deaths nationwide), 371 injuries (15.7% of all injuries nationwide) and property damage of about $668 Million. Pipelines are safer than transporting gas via truck and rail, but that’s not very reassuring to those who died or whose property was destroyed.

“Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” (but unfortunately, not for you)

Those in favor of fracking often use “jobs, jobs, jobs” as their mantra. What they fail to mention is that virtually all jobs are filled with temporary workers from oil producing states, like Texas and Oklahoma, who already work in the field and have the necessary skills and experience. Since Virginia does virtually no fracking, virtually no Virginians have the needed skills and experience so they won’t get hired. The only possible jobs available to Virginians would be truckers, but only if they have the special licenses needed to haul explosive and toxic materials. There are many horror stories about problems caused by transient workers brought in, from crime, prostitution, drugs, and housing shortages.

Insurance bonds will cover any problems – except it won’t.

Companies need to be bonded and insured, to obtain permits for fracking. There are over 3,000 small companies doing fracking across the country, and most of them exist while the job is there; they go out of business when the job ends. So the bond, which usually only covers site restoration, is treated as the cost of doing business, forfeited when the job ends. Once a well is closed, it is not monitored in Virginia after the first year. But that hole, and its equipment, is around forever, subject to failure over time. It’s not a question of if it will contaminate the surrounding land and water, but when.

You can’t prove that fracking has contaminated groundwater anywhere.

Contrary to any assertions that fracking doesn’t pollute groundwater, a study published in Environmental Science and Technology analyzed aquifer water samples from 550 wells across the Barnett Shale near Dallas and determined that drinking water wells in Texas counties that are home to intensive fracking operations contain elevated levels of more than two dozen metals and chemicals, some of which are carcinogens. The O&G industry claims “you can’t prove nothing” because groundwater testing was never done before fracking began, but the simple truth is that people were drinking the water before fracking began, but they couldn’t afterwards. The Pennsylvania government recently stated that fracking had polluted the water in several townships.


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