On the anniversary of the blowout of BP’s deepwater oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, there is another fuel spill – this time much closer to home. Near Canton, PA thousands of gallons of chemical laced water has spilled due to a blowout at a natural gas well. Workers from Chesapeake Energy Corp. lost control of a Marcellus Shale well on Tuesday and the extent of the spillage remains unknown at this time.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. is the country’s second largest producer of natural gas. The company particularly focuses on developing unconventional sources of onshore oil and gas. As of December 31, 2010, Chesapeake held 13.3 million net acres of land across the United States, on which the company has identified 38,000 drilling opportunities.
Chesapeake extracts natural gas by an unconventional method using the controversial drilling technique hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Significant environmental concerns surround this fracturing process – primarily how to dispose of the toxic drilling water is injected to break up the rock formations and release the gas. Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale has become of the epicenter of the unconventional natural gas industry . . . and now marks the site of the latest fuel spill.
Fracking has long been a controversial issue, criticized by environmental groups for its potentially adverse effects on the environment. The chemicals used in fracking fluids have been a contentious subject, as many energy companies have long guarded them as a “trade secret”. Some opponents to fracking suggest that energy companies using this controversial fracking method have injected millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens, such as methanol, into wells across the country.
This latest chemical-laden fluid spill has contaminated Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River. A contaminated creek cannot be saved. Damage done. Reports are that the creek was stocked with trout on April 5th. The well blew out near the surface, causing fluid to run over containment walls, through fields, personal property, and farms “even where cattle continue to graze”. Local families have been forced to evacuate due the spill and do not know the future of their drinking water. Private drinking wells are being tested for contamination. Officials are warning farmers in the area that cattle should no longer drink from the stream.
This latest fuel spill has all the makings of an environmental disaster in northern Pennsylvania. How do you put a price tag on this kind of environmental damage? Is this the legacy of deregulation of natural gas? When asked to comment on the spill, one Harrisburg politician last night shrugged his shoulders and remarked, “no one was killed . . . mistakes happen”.