December 23, 2008 -
Some Pittsburgher's never liked the taste of our Mon River drinking
water. Maybe drinking it for nearly 6 decades desensitized me, but
this fall I agreed with them, our water was PUTRID! Officials said our drinking (..and bathing, washing, and cleaning)
water had become “chunky.”
Towboat on the Mon River near
The Mon River joins with the Allegheny River at
Pittsburgh Pa to form the Ohio River.
The explanation goes like this… the late summer and
early fall drought here in Pittsburgh caused low river flow. That’s
true, because I don’t recall a drier fall growing season in decades,
and a “drought watch” was issued for 29 central and western
Pennsylvania counties on November 7th. OK, but where does the
“chunky” part come from?
TDS, or total dissolved solids in our drinking water were blamed for
its chunky state. But water company officials were quick to tell us
that even though it may spot glasses in your dishwasher, there is
nothing to worry about -- the water is safe to drink. Sure, if you
can get past drinking something tasting nearly as bad as the prep
for your last colonoscopy!
Marcellus Shale Brine Pit
Recovered frac fluid and brine are stored in plastic lined
Turns out some of the low river flow, and much of the TDS chunkiness,
resulted from the Marcellus Shale gas boom. Unless you have been
sleeping, or residing on Mars for the past year, you know about
this madhatter gas drilling boom that’s going on, with the epicenter
in Hickory, Pennsylvania. Estimates indicate the Marcellus Shale
holds enough gas to supply the entire US for 14 years, so main
players ante up like it’s the California Gold Rush.
Water is pumped out
streams anytime, anywhere. This spot in front of the Washington
County Fire Training Academy in Chartiers Township is very popular.
Clean Streams Law is supposed to protect drought- stricken streams
from de-watering, but is this law being enforced?
Using a new drilling method that fractures the shale substrates deep
in the earth, these gas ventures are able to extract huge amounts of
natural gas. It’s pretty amazing to imagine drilling down a mile and
then drilling sideways another ½ mile or more from there. But your wonder gives way to
worry when you realize the environmental costs, both immediate and long term. This
type of drilling requires millions of gallons of water for each
well, mixed with secret chemical additives to assist in the drilling
Frac job underway in Buffalo, Pa
Seven wells being fracked all at once. Neighbors say drilling
and pre-frac work lasted a year, and they are growing weary of it
The gas well process called
"hydraulic-fracturing" is exempt from portions
of the Safe Drinking
Water Act, The Clean Water Act, The Clean Air Act, and
If you find it worrisome these additives are being
left in the ground, you definitely don’t want to hear that most of
the reclaimed ‘salty cocktail mix’ is being only partially treated in our
municipal sewage plants, instead of specialized plants that also
take heavy metals and salt out of this wastewater. The only
treatment is dilution with treated sewage before it gets dumped in the same rivers that me and 350,000
or more other people get our drinking water from. With a bold confidence
that resembles the captain of the Titanic, we are told, “Don’t
worry, you and the environment are safe. Drink the water!”
Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees its citizens the "right to
clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the
natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the
My interest was piqued enough by these recent events to do some
internet research. If you want to follow my research trail just
Google the keywords “fracking water.” It will bring on a déjà vu
reminiscent of Love Canal and Agent Orange. Remember the Army
officer who drank a glass of Agent Orange just to show it was safe?
He’s probably sick or prematurely dead like so many of our other
AO-exposed Vietnam veterans.
Energy Policy Act exempted hydraulic fracturing from the
Safe Drinking Water Act. Also exempted from federal
control and water protection laws are the drilling
industry's construction activities..." (full
I read about fracking water motivated me to contact all of my
local legislators and ask them to make sure we aren’t moving too
fast with all this drilling before we are fully aware of the
consequences, or have answered all the questions. Why are these
chemical processes exempt from the
Act? What gives them the right to draw massive amounts of water from
streams and rivers, especially during a drought? Why doesn't Pennsylvania get a cut of gas drilling profits,
like other states with a severance tax? Why don’t producers have to reveal exactly what is in drilling fluid
formulas and wastewater?
Here’s an eye-opening introduction to
the 50+ chemicals used in fracking fluids (Off site PDF - 277KB – “What’s
in the fracking fluid?”)
There are lots of jokes about the funny effects of “something in the
water,” hopefully we don’t become the butts of our own fracking joke.
While fossil fuels often appear to be our most valuable natural resources,
that distinction belongs to water. Nothing on the planet lives
without it. We’re lucky to have an abundant water supply in western
Pennsylvania, lets not frac it up!