Unlike a wildfire or tornado, West Virginia is facing a disaster from which there is likely no recovery.
From judges that cancel a hearing and allow the waste to be put into our aquifers, to President Obama claiming natural gas is a “bridge to clean energy”, with almost unlimited funds, horizontal hydrofracturing (hhf or fracking) is being promoted, and its enormous damage hidden, in every imaginable way and at every government level.
Natural gas is not a bridge. Rather, it is reducing US support for clean energy technology, allowing other nations to control that growing market. Moreover, it is dirtier than coal because of the many leaks during production, its potency as a greenhouse gas and the tremendous amount of diesel fuel used.
Meanwhile, permitting frackers to dump hhf waste into drinking water is monstrous. These radioactive fluids contain heavy metals and endocrine disrupters that destroy immunity and impede body functions.
Clueless operators produce an average of five million gallons of this toxic waste every two to five years per well. And West Virginia is the recipient of such material not only from the over 1,200 hhf wells here, but also from those in other states plus 53,000 vertically-fracked gas wells.
This flood of poison, having nowhere safe to go, is being dumped in West Virginia wherever possible. Calling it “deicer”, the WV Div. of Highways puts it on roads. Truckers have been spotted pouring it into tributaries to rivers used for drinking water. It is injected into abandoned coal mines which sometimes serve as reservoirs. It is reported to be spread on mountaintop removal sites, and legally, is put into creeks.
Though extremely corrosive, frack waste is stored in dangerously under-regulated tanks whose whereabouts and contents are kept secret by the WV Health Dept. due to “terrorism”. It is also left in “evaporation ponds” and is going into the water table from pits above perforated rock--and from more than seven hundred-fifty leaky, abandoned gas wells across the state.
Now it has been discovered that the drilling mud, thought to be benign, is also toxic; while frack-waste in tanks increases in radioactivity five-fold in fifteen days. When even some of this contamination reaches our water supplies, we will pay for it with our health. And once poisoned, aquifers cannot affordably be restored.
Far from reigning in polluters, however, protective agencies are helping them. The WV Dept. of Environmental Protection has adopted the EPA exemption of all gas and oil field wastes from hazardous classification. Presently, by law, hhf waste cannot be tested for toxins or radioactivity and it is handled and stored as if it were only brine. The WV DEP has sponsored state regulations shielding fracking from public scrutiny. Moreover, this agency ignores flagrant gas industry violations, and recommends waste disposal options that by-pass safe drinking water requirements. Fracking is also exempt from all major federal environmental laws.
Due to collaboration between industry and government, we are apparently now a sacrifice zone. In West Virginia, fracking is expected to expand exponentially when pipelines to export terminals are completed.
For documented verification, please go to www.mountainpartywv.com, “dumping facts”. If you seek information elsewhere, please beware that academic studies, for example, reflect substantial natural gas grants and investments, that industry advertising is very profitable to the media and politicians receive large natural gas campaign contributions. Again, there is seemingly unlimited money backing hydrofracking. But also please be aware that, together, informed citizens can correct situations. Otherwise this dire issue would not be concealed.
Before they could view documents for a recently proposed vast industrial landfill, Doddridge County residents were forced to travel almost 2 hours each way to an office in Kanawha County. Such documents could easily have been more readily available to the affected residents.
Even though such files are digitally stored, the WV Department of Environmental Protection “DEP” failed to provide easy internet access even to a copy of the completed permit application,
Completely omitted among all the provided information is that this $2 million landfill will be used to process and store extremely toxic, radioactive sludge. Thus, at the August 23 permit hearing, local citizens were insufficiently alerted to potential impacts to local sourcewaters. This was an obvious coverup by the WV DEP.
Other impacts will be substantial. At least 5-1/4 miles of streams will be destroyed. They are the type of streams that are considered important water resources. Fresh natural water sources are already over-stressed in Doddridge County. There are two dozen or so private local water wells that have reportedly been ruined by indolent oversight of local gas drilling permits issued by the DEP .
If this landfill is permitted as proposed, a number of wetlands will be destroyed. Recent permits authorized by the WV DEP have already allowed the destruction of these valued resources where Mark West's cryogenic unit expansion is now located. Only .05 percent of Doddridge County's total acreage are considered wetland. The additional loss of these already scarce resources will deal a serious blow to the County's water resources.
It is extremely troubling that the waste proposed for disposal is described in the permit simply as “salts”, Various salts can be beyond toxic. Once in water, some are corrosive, many caustic or flammable and some even form toxic gas.
Most alarming, though, is that the proposed permit describes sediment ponds that will apparently be used to settle heavy metals and other frack wastewater contaminants into sludge containing dangerously high concentrations of radionuclides.
Prior to banning horizontal hydrofracturing altogether, New York's State Department of Environmental Conservation logged extremely high Radium 226 levels in the type of water those pits will be turning to sludge. One peer-reviewed scientific study reported that millions of barrels of this wastewater in Pennsylvania and New York were over 3,600 times more radioactive than the federal limit for drinking water, and 300 times more radioactive than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission limit for nuclear plant discharges.
Despite the radioactive hazard, state and federal exemptions actually prevent hydrofracking wastewater from being properly regulated as hazardous. Such loopholes circumvent adequate baseline comparison tests which could otherwise determine if radionuclides and other relevant toxins are leaking from the landfill.
The 1600-year half-life of Radium 226 will long outlast the permit's bond requirements and every form of containment proposed. Radium 226 is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and being water soluble, travels easily up the food chain. When ingested, it replaces calcium in the joints where it will irradiate blood and connecting tissue. Radiation poisoning causesbirth defects, early aging and cancer.
Until the public is properly provided with all of the facts, and unless the risks to the long term health of the local community and the environmental tradeoffs are fully addressed, the award of Doddridge County's Class F landfill should be postponed.
Like the judge in Fayette County, who, without a hearing, nullified West Virginian's right to stop toxic dumping, in 2015,Governor Tomblin allowed construction to continue on a pipeline project when a cease and desist order should have been given. The WV DEP issued a “consent order” for a company that had incurred 53 pipeline violations in only a few months. In such an order, the offending party promises to correct the violations and pay a fine while the operation continues.
Autumn Bryson, an environmental consultant, documented these and many more violations in a fifteen-mile stretch of the 55 mile, 36-inch diameter, Stonewall “gathering” pipeline. This pipeline carries 700 million cubic feet of gas per day with shut-off valves every 25 miles. Usually located in rural settings, gathering pipelines are nearly unregulated.
Natural gas is invisible, odorless, poisonous and highly explosive. In interstate pipelines, it is transported at an average pressure of 1,440 pounds per square inch which rises dramatically when the contents are forced up mountainsides. Explosions and asphyxiations do occur and with valves miles apart the resulting fires have lasted for up to a week. Gas pipelines are said to be monitored for leaks by aircraft once every few years, with dying vegetation the only indicator.
BTEX, a highly carcinogenic and neurotoxic fluid, can also be transported in such pipelines. Although this material has electronic leak detection, only leaks greater than 1.8 percent of the daily flow are spotted. With an expected flow of 1.4BILLION cu/ft/day, this means that over 25 million cubic feet of poison will escape daily from every leak just under 1.8 percent of flow. BTEX transport does not require a FERC permit.
However, it is reported that 60 to 80 % of fracking hazards result from compressor stations located every 40 to 100 miles along the pipelines. These machines run constantly. Some use diesel fuel which is known to cause asthma, lung cancer and heart problems. All emit carcinogenic, neurotoxic VOCs. formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide.
Hydrogen sulfide, being heavier than air, accumulates in low areas. The EPA has reported that venting, leaks from well head equipment and compressors, spills, malfunctions or build-up in enclosed or low-lying areas can create lethal levels of this gas.
Moreover, scientific research is increasingly revealing that exposure to long-term, low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can also destroy health. The effects include damage to the cardiovascular, immune, digestive, respiratory and central nervous systems, as well as the ear/nose/throat complex and muscle, bone, skin, teeth, gums, urinary tract, blood and cancer. Yet, under pressure from the oil and gas companies, hydrogen sulfide has been exempted from the Clean Air Act.
Despite these hazards, if their lease offer is refused, for-profit gas companies claim they can take property by “eminent domain”. This high handed approach has helped galvanize very diverse Appalachian groups into coalitions actively opposing pipelines.
One of these, POWHR (Protect Our Water Heritage and Rights), unites preservation groups through the Virginias and North Carolina along the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline route. By delaying construction with regulatory tactics, POWHR has bought time for conditions to change in their favor such as lowered gas prices. Kentucky's Friends for Environmental Justice is another rapidly-growing, successful coalition. When faced with trouble, people in Appalachia do what they must.
Some say the solution is to ban fracking altogether as New York State, Vermont, Maryland, several Canadian provinces and ten nations have done. But the NY ban did not include the entire fracking infrastructure and that state is now battling pipelines and toxic waste from elsewhere.
Author - You
If you have a story about living with fracking or pipelines, please send it to us and we will publish it here.