One fact has remained pretty constant since the fracking boom in America began back in the 2000s: Almost any environmental problem has turned out to be worse than the oil-and-gas industry and government regulators want the public to know. When it comes to polluting the wells of people who live near fracking rigs, the industry clings to its story line that fracking can’t possibly pollute the water table — trying to obscure the fact that shoddy well casings and other flaws pollute nearby water supplies all the time. In the case of the relationship between fracking and earthquakes, both energy executives and regulators denied for as long as possible that wastewater disposal practices were causing the quakes in previously stable environments such as Oklahoma — until the scientific evidence grew too loud to ignore.
Even though public opinion has turned against fracking, and even though low natural gas prices have slowed the surge in new drilling, researchers continue to find evidence of the negative impact that unconventional drilling has on the local environment. The academics from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions showed that spills from actual fracking operations — the only type of spill that’s currently recorded by regulators — are only part of the problem:
Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and North Dakota saw more than 6,600 spills from fracking wells—or more than one spill for every five wells?—?from 2005 to 2014, according to a study released Wednesday by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
The results suggest that the oil and gas industry needs to have stronger, more consistent reporting requirements for spills, which can include oil, chemical-laden water, and other substances, researchers said.
“As this form of energy production increases, state efforts to reduce spill risk could benefit from making data more uniform and accessible to better provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills,” said lead author Lauren Patterson.
The researchers looked closely at every phase of the process:
“Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site,” Patterson said. “Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells?—?not just unconventional ones.”
The researchers also found that newly drilled wells were more likely to have a spill. The first three years of a well’s life, when it is most active, were the most problematic.
In addition, between 26 percent (Colorado) and 53 percent (North Dakota) of all spills were from wells that spilled multiple times.
“I think the most compelling result from the study is that many of the spills are caused by problems that could be relatively easily fixed,” said Hannah Wiseman, another author on the report and a professor at Florida State University College of Law. “A lot of the spills came from equipment like flowlines.”
From Day One, many environmentalists and activists have argued the if fracking is to occur — and allow utilities and others to replace the dirtiest fuels, like coal, with somewhat cleaner natural gas — then such operations should be very tightly regulated. A decade later, nothing of that sort has happened. And in recent years, the surge in clean energy has raised questions about whether widespread unconventional drilling is needed at all. More and more states should follow the lead of New York and Maryland (and possibly Florida) and ban fracking altogether. This report is one more powerful piece of ammunition to back that up.
Read more about the Nicholas Institute report from ThinkProgress: https://thinkprogress.org/6600-spills-fracking-four-states-92df12858f6e#.zzwz752ln
Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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