Frackers Take Aim at Louisiana’s Tuscaloosa Marine Shale


The fracking battle – being fought with growing ferocity in communities across the country – has arrived in my home state of Louisiana. According to the Associated Press, Devon Energy, a natural gas drilling company based in Oklahoma City, has taken aim at northern Louisiana’s Tuscaloosa Marine Shale near Ethel in East Feliciana Parish. Devon has submitted a proposal to state officials that “marks the start of what is expected to be intensive fracking in the shale.”

Hydraulic fracturing – a highly controversial natural gas extraction process – has been at the heart of the energy debate for months with concerned citizens and enviros facing off against drilling companies determined to speed product to market at any cost. And the cost, according to the growing number of fracking opponents, is severe air and water contamination, including radioactive pollutants and other known human carcinogens.

Fracking occurs when drillers pump a mixture of water and chemicals – many of which, as mentioned, are carcinogenic – into the earth under extremely high pressure to break up the shale and release natural gas.

Now the fracking fight has come to Ethel, about 25 miles due north of Baton Rouge. From the AP article:

Madhurendu Kumar, director of the state Office of Conservation’s geological oil and gas division, said Devon Energy’s application for a production unit shows the company believes the area around the well contains multiple leases. The Tuscaloosa Marine Shale stretches about 200 miles east to west and is about 45 miles wide. A 1997 LSU study estimates there are 7 billion barrels of oil in the shale, Kumar said.

In addition to carcinogenic contamination, there’s also water-source depletion to worry about. Barry Kohl, an adjunct professor of geology at Tulane University, argues that the large volume of water needed for the fracking process will deplete underground aquifers or draw down lakes and streams.

So, not only does fracking potentially pollute drinking water sources, it also depletes them. No wonder Ethel residents are up in arms. Fortunately, they’ll get a chance to voice their concerns during upcoming public hearings on Devon Energy’s plans.

The EPA is conducting a study on fracking impacts, but the preliminary results won’t be in until the end of 2012. In the meantime, citizens and prudent public officials will be on their own to protect the water they drink and the air they breathe.

See the AP story here:–Baton-Rouge-Shale

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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