Recent news of land companies buying up mineral rights with intentions to “frack” in Madison and Estill Counties has set off ripples of alarm among many citizens.
Landowners need to be aware of what they could be getting themselves—and their neighbors–into if they do lease their mineral rights.
Drilling for oil around here has been happening off and on for nearly a century, but new technology has come up with a method for forcing oil and gas from depths that traditional drilling cannot touch.
It is a controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The Richmond Register confirmed that the mineral leases signed in Madison and Estill Counties do allow for it.
Not only does the process have the potential to force more oil and gas from layers of shale deep within the earth, it also has the potential to cause devastating damage to the local environment and subsequent harm to local people.
There are several reasons why I am wary of the practice of fracking here, or anywhere, for that matter.
(The state of New York banned fracking last year because of concerns over the risks to the public’s health. Several other countries have banned it as well.)
One is the risk of increased earthquake activity.
The Washington Post recently referenced a study published by the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America that connected several small earthquakes in Ohio with hydraulic fracturing in the area.
There are some pretty significant fault lines crisscrossing Kentucky, one that runs beneath the Clay’s Ferry Bridge.
That raises another uncomfortable question: What happens to the mustard gas stored in aging igloos at the Bluegrass Army Depot if fracking is conducted nearby?
Besides the risk of increased seismic activity, fracking requires huge volumes of water-sometimes millions of gallons—to be forcefully injected deep into the earth.
The small creeks in this area slow to little more than a trickle in the summer, so they can’t meet that need. That means the water would have to be trucked to the site. But from where would it be hauled? The Kentucky River? Owsley Fork Lake? Floyd Branch Lake?
During dry years, these sources barely meet the needs of the communities that draw from them.
And besides, who wants to deal with the constant traffic of a bunch of tanker trucks on narrow country roads?
A long list of chemicals, many known to cause cancer, are used in the fracking process. Because of a loophole created by Congress in a 2005 energy law, the wastewater from fracking is not regulated under the United States Safe Drinking Water Act.
I’m sure this loophole was designed to allow the U.S. to become more energy-independent, but it seems very short-sighted and irresponsible to me.
The whole fracking process creates toxic waste that is stored in wastewater ponds or injected in toxic wells back into the ground.
A report on the Weather Channel citing another seismological study said it is these toxic wells that are more likely to cause earthquake activities than the drilling itself. Apparently, the wells create extra stress on fault lines and are even suspected to create some new ones.
Those who support fracking say the toxic waste is injected so deeply into the ground that it is stored below groundwater level. However, surface spills are not uncommon and they absolutely contaminate drinking water.
Another thing that concerns me. Our local streams, which dwindle to a trickle in August, are often raging rivers in the spring. If a drill site were to flood, any toxins at ground level could easily be swept into the water supply.
Our area already has more than its fair share of cancer and birth defects. We don’t need the added worry from the risk of more contaminated water.
According to an article in the Herald Leader, Tom Fitzgerald, the head of the Kentucky Resources Council, said current regulations are not adequate to protect public health and the environment.
So who’s really going to benefit from fracking?
The oil and gas industry claims that jobs will be created and that will result in an economic boom.
I’m skeptical that many locals will be put to work or that any economic boom would last.
Here’s one more thing to consider. Land owners now being approached in the Red Lick Valley are being offered $20 to $50 an acre for their mineral rights.
In Ohio, landowners are paid $2,000 and up…sometimes as high as $5,000 an acre. Granted, that area may be a proven producer of oil and gas, but something about the discrepancy still smells funny to me.
Finally, besides the risks to public health and the potential for bust as well as boom, imagine how fracking operations would change the landscape of our peaceful valleys.
Drill sites and heavy traffic from big trucks and heavy equipment would pretty much insure the end of peace and quiet as we know it.
On Tuesday, January 27, from 6:30 to 8:30, there will be a meeting at the Action Folk Center on 212 West Jefferson Street in Berea to discuss the practice of fracking and the impact it has on communities.
We need to be educated about this issue, because the future well-being of our families depends on the decisions landowners make in the coming weeks and months.
The ultimate question to consider is this: Are public health and the beauty of our scenic valleys really worth sacrificing for dollars?
I don’t think so.