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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Marcellus Shale Regulations Need To Top Legislature Agenda

A Marcellus shale site in PA, courtesy of Marcellus Protest via flickr
(paraphrased from my original article for the Shepherd Picket)
Appalachia is home to the lucrative sedimentary rock deposit known as Marcellus shale, which contains large reserves of natural gas nestled underneath the surface of the rock and becomes available through a process involving hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking” as many have termed it).  Marcellus shale/hydraulic fracturing industry has created 2.8 million jobs.  Looking at it like this, it seems like a good idea and there are certainly a lot of positives to Marcellus shale gas extraction.  However, the process by which the gas is extracted can be dangerous and destructive to the environment

I've mentioned before, in the Shepherd Picket and on's Environmental blog Bonnie Hall, a Wetzel County resident whose water was allegedly contaminated when Chesapeake Energy began fracking near her land.  She drew water from a well at her house and noticed that the well water smelled like “industrial strength cleaning fluid.”  Her water was examined and found to contain styrene, a chemical commonly tied to kidney and liver problems that is a known chemical in some types of fracking.    Other chemicals commonly used in fracking include acrylonitrile and benzene . Acrylonitrile is especially concerning, because tests conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have labeled it as a cause of brain cancer. 

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued an executive order last July that called for emergency focused on fracturing.  The rules were a good start, and included some important foundation steps to regulating the industry. Tomblin’s order  required the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to “require drillers to estimate water usage, and for the agency to approve any disposal of frackwater by way of public treatment plants.” This would ensure that the DEP was inspecting and approving the wastewater that results from fracking, and will hopefully prevent most contamination.  Certifying site construction plans, new regulations on wells to prevent leaks, and the filing of water management plans were also on the list of rules for the executive order.  This needs to reach further, although its a decent start.  There needs to be 100 percent transparency when it comes to the chemicals and additives companies use in the fracking and drilling process, and all of them need to be approved by the DEP. 
There are several actions that need to be taken if the Marcellus shale industry is to thrive in West Virginia.  Research in alternative and clean energy is one, but as enticing as that sounds its not very likely in the mountain state.  However, regulations on the industry that hold the drilling companies accountable and ensure clean and safe fracking is possible and can be accomplished.  The State Legislature will be inundated with fracking-related issues this coming session, and they need to put some serious time and effort into reforming and writing new regulations for this lucrative but hazardous industry. 


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