Hearings to be held July 10 in Knoxville on Tennessee fracking regulation issues
By Frances LambertsOn New Year’s Eve, Youngstown, Ohio was shaken by the biggest in a succession of earthquakes.
Though not causing damage or injuries, they were strong enough to be felt well beyond Ohio state lines.
The region, with normally insignificant earthquake activity, had seen a great increase in oil and gas production through hydraulic fracturing methods over several years.
The U.S. Geological Survey found the frequency of earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater in the region, away from significant fault lines, to be “unprecedented” and “almost certainly manmade.”
Earthquakes of that size there last year (134) were six times the number registered in any year throughout the 20th century.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich ordered a temporary suspension of drilling operations at wells closest to the epicenter of the New Year’s Eve quake and the state is upgrading its regulations pertaining to “fracking” in oil and natural gas extraction, to improve its safety.
The practice involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives into wells under high pressure, creating cracks in rock formations for higher gas recovery.
Deep geologic formations such as shale, formerly unprofitable to extract, are being rapidly developed through this technology.
More than 400,000 wells using it have been drilled since 2001.
By 2021, according to projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas could be produced in such plenty as to make the United States a net exporter of it.
Amendments to the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water laws enacted by the previous administration exempted hydrofracking from basic water-protection requirements.
Its threats to water resources, however, beyond earthquakes and a host of other concerns, have generated significant community opposition to fracking nationwide.
Freshwater withdrawals during a drilling well’s operation, typically ranging from 2.3 to 5 million gallons, can conflict with other uses, especially as droughts under climate change increase stresses on water.
Groundwater contamination can occur if accidental spills, improperly cased well bores or equipment failures release fracking fluids onto or in the ground.
Large amounts of wastewater, temporarily held in embankments or pits, which themselves can overflow or leak, must be treated and disposed of after well closure.
Typical drilling operations require the clearing of vegetation from seven-to-eight acres, through which stormwater runoff can add to water-quality degradation in local waterways
Small wonder that a number of states and towns — Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey — among others, and countries from Germany and France to South Africa have placed moratoriums or outright bans on natural gas production through fracking.
In Tennessee, where it is occurring but still uncommon, Gov. Bill Haslam is taking steps, ahead of the curve in large-scale fracking, to upgrade relevant regulations.
Under a “forced integration of tracts” provision, regulations currently allow drilling companies’ use of eminent domain to “pool” privately owned parcels for higher extraction yield and profits.
Citizens may wish to attend a Rulemaking Hearing on the proposed regulations on fracking, at the Knoxville Environmental Field Office of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation on Tuesday, July 10, at 2 p.m. or 6 p.m., or submit written comments.
Comments should be emailed by July 20 to Michael.K.Burton@tn.gov.