Superstorm Sandy raises worries about fracking by Isaac Wolf, October 30, 2012, Scripps Howard News Service
WASHINGTON — As Sandy lashed the Eastern Seaboard this week, some environmental groups raised concerns that the superstorm’s brute force could overwhelm feeble storage pits adjacent to fracking sites. In turn, critics said, that could allow the unintended release of toxic materials from the oil and gas hydraulic fracturing operations into streams and farmland in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio which were hit by Sandy. Industry groups say they hunkered down for the storm before it reached land Monday and were well prepared to keep the waste quarantined. They dispute any accusation from critics that they cut corners in securing toxic fluids.
At issue are the storage sites holding chemicals near the wells. Fracking, as the controversial process is known, involves pumping millions of gallons of water and additives into underground rock formations to release deposits of oil or natural gas. … Sometimes, the man-made pools holding these fluids fail, resulting in the release of poisons. The concern now is that gusting winds and torrential downpours from Sandy could trigger the breakdown of barriers. “The test will be the evaluation post-storm to see, ‘Are there any new major problems that can be traced back to this storm?’ ” said Brook Lenker, executive director of FracTracker Alliance, a nonaligned group that collects data on hydraulic fracturing.
In fiscal 2011, agents from the federal Environmental Protection Agency inspected 120 oil- and gas-well sites for spill prevention preparedness. All but 15 sites were out of compliance, according to a September study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Infractions ranged from minor paperwork inconsistencies to “more serious violations,” including not having secondary barriers around stored oil and failing to implement spill prevention plans, the GAO reported.
A study this spring by Robert Oswald, a professor in Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and veterinarian Michelle Bamberger found 24 cases where animals were potentially harmed by the effects of gas drilling. The researchers said they couldn’t make a direct link between the drilling and deaths and injuries, because of incomplete scientific testing and a lack of information about fracking chemicals, they wrote in an abstract of the article, published in “New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy.” [Emphasis added]