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Fracking: The rest of the story

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On Sunday Jan. 5, the Los Alamos Monitor carried a 1/3-page article on fracking of petroleum wells, authored by Marita Noon, spokesperson for organizations that, in their own terms, “influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life.”
Noon argues against the public fear of fracking (hydraulic fracturing), its water consumption, and the chemicals used in fracking. She neglects to mention the public’s main fear, which is contamination of ground and surface waters due to fracturing through the pressure-bearing geologic formation.
In Wyoming, the Environmental Protection Agency found widespread upward leakage of oil and gas along the outside of wells due to imperfect cementing of the well casings. Experts from New Mexico Tech offered a similar conclusion in testifying to a NM legislative committee. This problem is overlooked in the public arguments. New Mexico regulations do not require testing of the cement after it is injected to form a seal between the casing and the larger borehole.
Noon says the fracking chemicals “are now mostly food-based and can be consumed with no ill effects.” But the New Mexico rule, revised at the industry’s request, says disclosure of the chemicals is not required if the industry considers them “proprietary” or “secret.” If the chemicals are as harmless as Noon suggests, there should be no reason for secrecy. The chemicals in your toothpaste are listed on the label, although the exact mixture may be proprietary.
Fracking of a well may use a million gallons of water, of which a large portion is returned to a pit at ground surface. The return water contains injected chemicals, reaction chemicals created underground, and toxic hydrocarbons from the petroleum reservoir.
Noon says the industry is cleaning up the return water so that it can be “either irrigation or drinking water.” That may be true in a few cases. However, at the hearing in 2012 (requested by industry to weaken New Mexico’s pit rule) an industry expert witness gave sworn testimony as follows:
“If we start with freshwater going in, approximately 20 to 50 percent of that will come back ... It will be ... 20 to 50,000 parts per million chlorides ... the difficulty of reusing flowback water ... the technology is not completely developed to be able to reuse less than freshwater ...”
The public indeed fears the consumption of fresh water by fracking and releases of the contaminated return water. It doesn’t help when Noon’s lobby groups obscure the facts.
Donald A. Neeper
Los Alamos