On Wednesday communities held Freedom From Toxic Fracking Waste rallies to raise awareness on one of the largest environmental risks from fracking: dealing with the waste it produces. In the best case scenario the toxic stew - of unknown composition due to the Halliburton Loophole - is removed from the hydrological cycle entirely. In other words, less water for everyone.
The worst case scenario is considerably more disturbing. The great, unknown hazard that hangs over fracking is this: Everything we think we know about its effects are based on modeling. We don’t precisely know what is going to happen. All we can do is make educated guesses based on the modeling, then try it out on the earth. This isn’t like computer programming, where we have some kind of development copy of the planet to experiment on, make mistakes with, completely trash if we make a mistake, wipe clean and start all over again if need be. We have one environment, the production environment, and if we screw it up we don’t have backup copies to restore from.
This makes it exceedingly important to get it right. But getting it right means taking the long view - the long view in geological terms. What we are putting in the ground will play out over literally decades, and if our assumptions now are wrong we will be left to mostly watch from the sidelines as the destruction unfolds.
There are already indications that some of those assumptions are faulty. For instance, a study from a couple months ago showed that fluids from the Marcellus Shale are likely making their way into drinking water. The fluids in question did not have drilling chemicals, and industry supporters trumpeted that point. What was disturbing about the study, though, was what it revealed about how fluids behave in the shale. The assumption had been that they were static - or extremely slow moving. Now it seems out they can migrate far more quickly than previously thought.
If that is indeed the case then the toxic fracking waste might not be removed from the hydrological cycle after all (which, remember, is the best case scenario). If fracked shale is substantially more permeable than unfracked shale, there could be catastrophic consequences. Since we are testing in production (also Cf.), this represents an enormous risk.
The protests Wednesday were held in many places. At least one was held in California, but there were quite a few right here in Ohio. I attended one in Ravenna, and we had a good crowd. Many of the messages were straightforward:
We had a second part of our rally as well. We are still trying to get someone from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to meet with citizens during the public comment period on a set of seven - count ‘em - well applications. The agency has so far responded by saying they have rules, they’re going to follow the rules, and darn it the rules just won’t let them meet with us when it would be most useful to citizens (details here). So after the protest everyone went back to a local church decked out for the occasion:
We actually ran out of letters and envelopes, and are working on getting the information to everyone who wanted to send a letter but wasn’t able to. Whether it moves ODNR remains to be seen, but local residents are doing everything they can to make their concerns heard. We’d prefer our water supply to not be on the receiving end of any novel discoveries in earth science.