US gas well contained, but concerns rise on 'fracking'

Apr 22, 2011 by Daniel Kelley
Chesapeake Energy logo. Crews in Pennsylvania gained control Friday of a natural gas well that blew out and spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laden drilling fluid into the environment over two days.

Crews in Pennsylvania gained control Friday of a natural gas well that blew out and spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laden drilling fluid into the environment over two days.

But the incident has drawn attention to concerns over a controversial drilling process of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," which is seen as having enormous potential for capturing natural gas but has environmental risks.

The operator of the well, Chesapeake Energy, has suspended operations at its wells in Pennsylvania pending its investigation into the causes of the spill.

The from the spill is unclear. The exact amount of fluid that spilled from the well was not disclosed, and it was not clear exactly what the fluid contains.

State environmental officials were taking samples to determine the extent of the damage, said Paul Spadoni, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Some of the fluid spilled into a nearby creek. Company officials asserted in a statement that "initial testing from Towanda Creek indicates little, if any, significant effect to local waterways."

The well is located near Canton, Pennsylvania, in Bradford County. Canton is about 280 kilometers (175 miles) northwest of Philadelphia, near the border of New York state, which has imposed a moratorium on fracking.

involves forcing chemicals deep into a well to dislodge natural gas from shale thousands of feet below the surface.

However, the method risks poisoning the water wells that many rural landowners in Pennsylvania rely on. The high pressure chemicals could dislodge other underground chemicals that might find their way into the water wells of homeowners.

Despite the controversy, the method is on the rise in Pennsylvania and across the country. The high price of natural gas has encouraged drilling, and new technology has made it possible to reach gas never before considered viable.

Proponents of such drilling say it provides much needed jobs in rural areas with depressed economies.

But opponents say the risks are high. The state's Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a list of all of the chemicals found in the drilling fluid. A newly released Congressional report listed far more chemicals used in drilling operations, many of them carcinogenic.

Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the latest accident highlights the dangers of fracking.

"Pennsylvania has become a national sacrifice zone for natural gas development. It has seen more than its share of drinking water contamination, houses exploding, and destroyed landscapes and communities," she said.

"These incidents, and many other spills, leaks, and explosions, reveal that accidents are not being prevented."

The spill came at a sensitive time for the oil and gas industry. The blowout occurred on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

On the day before the blowout, state environmental officials asked gas drillers to stop delivering waste water to public wastewater treatment facilities. The spill itself occurred on the day that state environmental officials decided to allow drilling in state game lands, areas reserved for hunting.

Fueling interest in gas is what is believed to be a massive reserve in the so-called Marcellus Shale over a wide area of the eastern United States.

Pennsylvania State University's Terry Engelder estimates the Marcellus shale holds between 168 trillion and 516 trillion cubic feet of gas that can be "easily produced."

Explore further: Tourists evacuated amid Iceland volcano concerns

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hundreds attend EPA hearing on Pa. gas drilling

Jul 22, 2010

(AP) -- Hundreds of people are attending a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearing in southwestern Pennsylvania on a controversial natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

EPA told gas drilling does, does not taint water

Sep 13, 2010

(AP) -- Rep. Maurice Hinchey told a federal hearing Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas extraction process that he said has contaminated water near drilling ...

EPA takes new look at gas drilling, water issues

Jul 21, 2010

(AP) -- So vast is the wealth of natural gas locked into dense rock deep beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio that some geologists estimate it's enough to supply the entire East Coast for ...

EPA hears from gas drillers, angry Pa. residents

Jul 23, 2010

(AP) -- Federal researchers studying a natural gas drilling technique that involves blasting chemical-laced water into the ground got an earful from residents who say it's poisoning them and killing their animals and from ...

Recommended for you

Climate change: meteorologists preparing for the worst

1 hour ago

Intense aerial turbulence, ice storms and scorching heatwaves, huge ocean waves—the world's climate experts forecast apocalyptic weather over the coming decades at a conference in Montreal that ended Thursday.

Sunlight, not microbes, key to CO2 in Arctic

2 hours ago

The vast reservoir of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost is gradually being converted to carbon dioxide (CO2) after entering the freshwater system in a process thought to be controlled largely by microbial ...

Drying Sierra meadows could worsen California drought

2 hours ago

Carpeting the high valleys of Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra Nevada, mountain meadows are more than an iconic part of the California landscape. The roughly 17,000 high altitude meadows help regulate ...

User comments : 0