Archived Story

Investigate pros, cons of fracking boom

Published 12:05am Thursday, August 1, 2013

Recently, The Democrat has published several articles about the practice of “fracking” (a slang term for fractured oil and gas drilling) in the southwestern Mississippi area. Those articles have quoted regional leaders who have generally praised the economic benefits of fracking as a new local source of energy and as an economic boon.

However, there are other considerations of which your readers should know. On one side are those who promote fracking as an economic boost to a regional economy in need of one. The local potential has been estimated at as high as 8 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Any new energy source is beneficial and needed. Such a natural gas boom would bring new outside residents, new tax moneys, development, outside investment and, most importantly, good-paying jobs for locals. To their critics, fracking advocates — chiefly in the gas exploration and production industry and among local economic boosters — say that fracking can be made safe, and its dangers ameliorated through well-designed drilling controls and safe practices.

On the other hand, there are many Americans whose experience with fracking is decidedly not so positive. People who live near wells in highly fracked areas have experienced serious health and environmental damages.

Ranchers and farmers in areas already over-fracked out West have dead cattle, unproductive crops, undrinkable water — and worthless land.

When over-fracked areas impact the common landowner and resident, the “environment” includes all the people living in it. Fracking requires from 2 to 8 million gallons of fresh water per well. This water is treated with carcinogenic chemicals before it’s pumped deep underground.

The poisonous water must then be pumped out and disposed of safely. Where will this water come from? What impact will the transport of all that water have on local highways? Where will the wastewater be treated? Who will pay for its disposal? What are the dangers of spillage and leaching into the water table?

Fracking’s also produces waste by-products, chiefly methane gas, which can be lethal. Methane enters both the atmosphere and the ground water, thus endangering both. Does Mississippi have policies and laws to ensure safe disposal? Excessive fracking leads to the shocking phenomenon of “flaming tapwater,” where residents’ faucets produce flaming gas along with their water. Films such as “Gasland” document some of the abuses of mismanaged or excessive fracking on local land values, air and water quality and the health and lives of livestock and even humans. There have also been reports (most recently, in Arkansas) of multiple mini-earthquakes, with some speculation that they may have been caused by excess fracking in a given area.

There is, however, a middle ground. We all use oil and gas products, so it would be hypocritical to oppose fracking altogether, and the economic benefits are evident and worthwhile. On the other hand, surely most of us don’t want (as is now true in heavily fracked areas, especially out West) for land values to fall to zero when water tables and aquifers have been exhausted or rendered unusable. Land owners might enjoy a nice fat check up front, but would surely regret that later, when their land becomes valueless.

Excess fracking seems to be the main culprit. Over-fracking produces the worst environmental impacts listed above — that is, too many wells drilled in a given area. Limiting well density (how many wells are allowed in a given area) is a workable compromise. In our state and local counties, we should welcome the benefits of fracking, but we must also ensure that we are not destroying our land values and a livable environment.

For my part, I’m confident my ancestors didn’t work this land — farm it, harvest its timber, hunt and fish on it, and generally enjoy the pleasures of the natural world — in order to have it ruined.

May I urge The Democrat to investigate and inform its readers about the full picture, pros and cons, of the coming fracking boom?

 

Don Simonton is a local resident and landowner in Adams and Wilkinson counties.