“The Worst Water In the World”

Van Wagner
July 18, 2011

As a career High School science teacher I have been lucky to meet many professionals in all fields of science.  This is especially true in the environmental sciences as that is my own specific area of focus.  One of these people, a life-long environmental engineer, recently told me that he and his colleagues consider the waste water created in fracking Pennsylvania shale to be “the worst water in the world.”  After reading a recent article in the Journal of Environmental Quality I couldn’t agree more!

The new study was conducted by Mary Beth Adams, a U.S. Forest Service researcher.  She looked at the effects of land application of fracking fluids on a quarter-acre section of the Fernow Experimental Forest within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.  More than 75,000 gallons of fracking fluids were applied to the forest plot over a two day period during June 2008.  5.6 million gallons of water are needed to drill and fracture a Marcellus deep shale gas well (Chesapeake Energy Marcellus fact sheet 2010).  Gas companies admit freely that around 20% of this water returns to the surface as “flowback.”  This study by Adams didn’t apply an amount equal to 20% of the toxic water, it only applied about 1% of the water needed to frack one well.

The following effects were reported in the study (paraphrased by Kirsten Stade writing for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility July 2011):

 This study proves that these fluids must be treated as toxic waste.  Currently, they are not.  In some cases this water is still being dumped into the Susquehanna River  via sewage treatment plants.  Dozens of spills have also already taken place and we have yet to even begin to reach the size and scope the gas industry hopes for.  According to Penn State University Center for Marcellus Outreach a little over 3,000 wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania.  The gas industry hopes to see that number reach 100,000. (Linda Seiner writing for the PA Game News August 2010).    We are barely at 3% of the way to where industry wants us and we’ve already seen too many thousands of gallons of frack water spilled. 

I have been troubled this week by the news that legislation is being drafted to push for “forced pooling.” (The Times Tribune July 11, 2011)  This could lead to minority landowners who are surrounded by leased land being forced into having their own private property fracked.  I am no politician, I am a scientist.   I am sure glad that the study mentioned earlier was not conducted on my private property where I live in Montour County.  I will fight with all my strength to make sure no company uses my family’s land for their own experiment.  To my fellow landowners I ask to you to join my wife and me; do not lease your land to a gas company.  We are way ahead of the curve in our area.  Lets stay that way!

*Van Wagner lives with his wife and 2 sons in Danville and is a Lewisburg Area High School Science teacher currently completing his graduate research in Earth Science from The Pennsylvania State University.