Deroy Murdock must have relied on industry TV ads for his information in "Regulators find nothing scary about fracking," (Record-Courier, Jan. 15). After quoting a few "regulators," industry apologists, and ex-governor Ed Rendell, he concludes there is nothing to fear about fracking. Surely he must know that, when he quotes Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, saying that there is "no case where the fracking process itself has affected water," she is speaking of those moments when the pipe bomb explodes and fractures the shale, not when well-heads explode, or when cement jobs leak or when well-casings fail. Mr. Murdock also fails to tell us that Lisa Jackson appropriated $1.9 million for the EPA to study the effects of fracking on water safety; results to come out in 2014.
Let's look at the actions of the actual regulators. Between 2008 and 2011 there were 2,392 violations in Pennsylvania that were deemed threats to the environment and safety of communities. For example, in April 2011, a Chesapeake well in Bradford County, Pa., suffered a massive blowout and gushed toxic water for days before it was brought under control. Ten thousand gallons of fracking fluid inundated pastures and streams, and seven families had to be evacuated from their homes. Chesapeake was fined $250,000. In May 2011, Chesapeake was fined $1.1 million for contaminating 17 water wells in Bradford County.
When wells fail due to deficient cement jobs or inadequate well construction, they leak and can contaminate nearby drinking wells, streams or pastures. Annual data for 2010-12 show the failure rate in Pennsylvania to be 6.2 percent, 6.2 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively. Imagine if air flights had a 6 percent crash rate rather than less than one in 1 million. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., expert at assessing risk, no longer will cover any enterprise that has anything to do with fracking, and Rabobank, the world's largest agricultural bank, no longer sells mortgages to farmers with gas leases.
The EPA has been primarily focused on water contamination, but not much on air quality. Recently a well-designed study by scientists at the University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Health monitored air quality over a three-year period around 24 shale wells during drilling, fracking and production. They found that the wells emitted five times the federal EPA Hazard Index levels, putting people's health at greater risk for cancer and organ damage from benzene, toluene, ethylene and xylene. People within one-half mile of a well were at greater risk than those further away. Thus the researchers recommended setbacks much further than Colorado's requirement of just 150 feet for rural and 350 feet for developed areas. In another study, a prominent hydrologist from New York recommended that wells be set back at least 3,000 feet from drinking wells, ponds and houses in the country. In Ohio, ODNR unfortunately permits drilling to be 150 feet from homes in the city and 100 feet in the country. No wonder a new report from the GAO concludes that shale drilling poses serious risks to health and environment!
Unlike the researchers from Colorado, we do not have sensors in place to monitor the air quality around drilling operations nor procedures to collect health records of people who live in the vicinity of drilling. Mr. Murdock chides New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not lifting the moratorium. Given the testimony of large numbers of physicians, members of health organizations and scientists urging Cuomo to ban fracking, his hesitation is sensible and unworthy of Murdock's labeling him a frackophobe.
Ralph Cebulla, Hiram