A Pennsylvania fracking well operated by Chief Oil & Gas in Bradford County suffered a release of 4700 gallons of hydraulic acid on July 4, state regulators reported. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is overseeing the spill cleanup at the site, which is in the northeastern portion of the state. The spill was able to be kept from major waterways in the area, but still caused some damage in the region.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method of retrieving natural gas from underground shale deposits that injects chemical-and-sand treated water into underground wells to crack the rock and allow gas to flow to the surface. While industry representatives tout the process as a great means to achieve energy independence in the United States, environmental activists worry that spills such as this pose too much of a threat to public safety to make fracking worthwhile.
The accident in question occurred at around 1 p.m. and was soon discovered by onsite personnel. Four thousand gallons were captured in containment equipment, allowing just 700 gallons to spill out, contaminating surrounding soil and water sources. Although this spill was considered minor, the acid that flowed out still reached a tributary of Towanda Creek, killing the fish that swam in its waters.
What is perhaps most troubling about the incident is that its cause is still unknown. According to Chief's spokesperson Kristi Gittins, "No drilling or fracking operations were taking place at the time of the release." The blame for the spill will likely fall on a failed valve at the back of a tanker holding the acid, but the accident is still under investigation.
The Chief well in question is located in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, one of the largest formations in the U.S. In the past few years, fracking operations in the region have exploded, and while this has provided a boon to previously depressed local economies, the increased activity has also taken its environmental toll.
A recent study published in the journal Ground Water revealed that the 4 million gallons of chemically treated fluid injected into the over 5000 wells in the Marcellus Shale could migrate into drinking water supplies in as little as "just a few years." Chemicals used in the fracking process, including benzene, lead, arsenic and even radioactive elements are all highly toxic to humans; if they enter the drinking water supply in mass quantities, a public health disaster would be highly likely.
Industry experts believed that the impermeability of the rock layers would keep the dangerous chemicals locked more than a mile beneath underground water supplies. Using computer modeling, however, study author Tom Myers was able to conclude that natural fissures, exacerbated by fracking operations, would soon allow the chemicals to flow upwards into water supplies.
While trouble brews underground, above-ground well spills and blowouts are also frequent occurrences in the region. In April 2011, a well operated by Chesapeake Energy in Bradford County spewed thousands of gallons of polluted completion fluids into a stream in Canton, PA after an equipment failure during well-completion activities. As authorities struggled to bring the well under control, seven families in the area were evacuated and local farmers were advised to prevent their animals from drinking from the streams. This incident was just one of many similarly troubling accidents that are affecting the health of the people and the land in the towns surrounding Marcellus fracking operations.
As Texas-based environmental attorneys, the lawyers at Arnold & Itkin have personally witnessed the positive and negative impact fracking operations can have on communities. We support the exploration of alternative energy sources, but not at the expense of our health and property. For this reason, our attorneys work to aggressively represent individuals who have been made sick or suffered contaminated property as a result of irresponsible oil and gas industry operations. If you have been harmed by fracking operations, we want to help. Contact our office today for a free consultation.