Fracking Wastes Devastate Research Forest in Virginia

Wed, 2011-07-13 19:02Carol Linnitt
Carol Linnitt's picture

Fracking Wastes Devastate Research Forest in Virginia

Wastewater from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations poses a serious threat to national forests, according to a researcher from the U.S. Forest Service. Mary Beth Adams conducted a two year study of soil and vegetation health in West Virginia after more than 75,000 gallons of fracking wastewater were applied to a portion of forest set aside for research. 

The study, appearing in the July-August issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Quality, tracks the effects of fracking wastewater on a quarter-acre section of the Fernow Experimental Forest in the Monongahela National Forest. Adams monitored the effects of the land application over a two-year period.

Within two days, the contaminated fluids had killed all ground level plant life and within 10 days began to brown the foliage of trees. Within two years all of the trees showed signs of damage and more than half of the 150 trees in the test area were dead. The study notes a dramatic 50-fold increase of sodium and chloride in surface soil after the application, but, because the chemical composition of fracking wastes is protected as proprietary information, the full contamination effects could not be studied.

According to Adams, the case study demonstrates the need for further research to understand the full effects of fracking and fracking waste disposal. 

The whistleblower group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) argues that the study results demonstrate the need for tighter control over fracking fluids and wastes. “This study suggests that these fluids should be treated as toxic waste,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The explosion of shale gas drilling is the East has the potential to turn large stretches of public lands into lifeless moonscapes.” Ruch adds that historically the Forest Service “has drilled its head deeply into the sand on oil and gas operations harming forest assets.”

U.S. Forest Service scientists and researchers like Adams previously tried to intervene in unconventional gas exploration in the Fernow Experimental Forest, warning of potential long term environmental damage and harm to endangered species. According to a PEER investigation, Forest Service officials downplayed the specialists’ findings and blocked their attempts to gain legal advice from the Office of General Counsel. PEER called for an official review of the decisions made by the Forest Service, calling into question the office’s relation to private industry interest.

Despite the shocking results, Adams’ report may not have the impact it warrants. Mitigating the impacts of waste water disposal should be “high priority” according to Adams, but there is little to suggest official bodies like the Forest Service are prepared to step in. In the past 25 years the Forest Service has not placed any restrictions on private extraction, even in wilderness areas. The Forest Service, says Ruch, insists on adopting a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to issues like the environmental impacts of gas exploration. 

Photo Credit: Charleston Gazette

Previous Comments

Ms Linnitt, Virginia and West Virginia are two different states.

Thought you might like this video on Fracking…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=timfvNgr_Q4&feature=player_embedded

The fracking hype is the first type of alarmism I am coming across. Went to the Glenbow museum in Calgary yesterday and checked out the history of increasing permeability in reservoir rocks. In the 1920s, there were the rock shooters…plunging nitro down the borehole. Hydraulic fracturing began in tine 1950s, but the hype started only recently, when productiion reached shallow shale gas. I emphasize the word shallow, as not all shale gas is shallow.

I know some anti-fracking activists who are also against vaccinating their kids, totally fact free.

So, now you are getting freaks on both sides, the climate change deniers that make facts up, and the gullible anti-whatever lobby who are also fed by non-experts. In North America, extremism exists on all sides, and people believe the whole 360 degree spectrum. That gas flare out of a water tap sticks - although it is natural! Scary!

Interesting audiobook:

http://ebookee.org/Denialism-How-Irrational-Thinking-Harms-the-Planet-and-Threatens-Our-Lives-Audiobook-_1185969.html

Although denialists, according to Specter, come from both ends of the political spectrum, they have one important trait in common: their willingness to replace the rigorous and open-minded skepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment.

Fracking has been used since the 1950s. It is a standard technique not adherent to shale gas, but to any tight rock. In the past, it was mainly applied to low perm sandstones.

Questions to the anti frack community:

1. How many are being done every day in Alberta, northeast BC, and Texas. And how has this frequence developed in the last decades?

2. How to produce oil/gas from tight rocks otherwise?

3. Why has there been a 50-60 year delay in getting hyped about it?

Although I am not totally anti fracking - see below:

‘3. Why has there been a 50-60 year delay in getting hyped about it?’

Maybe it has taken that long for people outside of the industry to connect the dots on reports of water quality and related health and other environmental issues as the practice has become more widespread.

Maybe the industry has been able to keep the lid on any such reports until recently once again because of the more widespread use of these techniques.

‘1. How many are being done every day in Alberta, northeast BC, and Texas. And how has this frequence developed in the last decades?’

I have really no idea, probably, until now, a closely guarded industry secret and even now subject to confidentiality clauses (NDAs) in certain quarters - maybe.

‘2. How to produce oil/gas from tight rocks otherwise?’

Maybe we shouldn’t until full and correct oversight is in place. After all the oil industry does not have a particularly good record when it comes to extraction and transportation, also refining so why should we trust them to regulate themselves which is what they are effectively doing by seeding the legislatures with their industry backed place-men.

When the oil, and gas, industries can demonstrate honest behaviour with no cost cutting of safety and environment then maybe the schemes should be continued.

Further, what should be considered is that after all associated costs in fuel use in construction, managing and maintaining the infrastructure are taken into account then the carbon footprint of these techniques should not make them more deleterious than renewables. After all, like any other industry, fuel is burned running it. In other words, how soon do we feel the effects of the law of diminishing returns?

I don’t know, do you?

You sound like you are coming from the position of an industry insider so maybe you have some sources of reliable documentation that would alleviate these concerns.

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