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The wrong panic list

By Tom Glendinning
Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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Pittsboro, NC - Recent publications on gas drilling have used a scare tactic to frighten citizens about gas drilling, again. “Fracking” has become a buzzword for gas drilling. It is a special technique to coax gas from deep wells in rock layers 3000 to 8000 feet below the land surface and not always needed for successful mining of gas and oil.

The list of chemicals is correct. The wording implies that these chemical will be injected into our drinking water wells. The picture on the brochure implies that the chemicals are found in our water if gas drilling will be permitted.

Science and strict laws governing drilling have not yielded these results in other states. Repeat: state environmental departments and EPA testing have not found these threats in drinking water from deep drilling.

The possible threat arises in transport of the drilling fluid from one site to another and in the storage ponds of flushed fluid from the gas wells. Still, little evidence exists that any cause but human error will result in water pollution.

The list of actual pollutants is short. There are generally two carcinogens on the list. These chemicals in published documents from drilling companies are below drinking water standards of purity. Other substances are found in cosmetics, food, and common, everyday products available on store shelves.

If the opponents of gas drilling were truly concerned about the environment, they should address existing sources of pollution such as landfill leachate or polluters upstream from the Pittsboro and Siler City water plants. Landfill leachate most often sinks into groundwater from dumps year after year. It is a constant source of pollution for drinking water wells. The presence of carcinogens and pollutants from these in drinking water is not hypothetical. It is real. Most water plants can not remove these chemicals with their treatment. Certainly, most home water systems do not have sophisticated tertiary treatment for chemicals, though they are available.

A short list of chemicals found in landfill leachate and surface water:

Aromatic hydrocarbons
Benzene, Toluene, Xylenes, Ethylbenzene, Trimethylbenzenes, Propylbenzene, Butylbenzene, Ethyltoluene, Naphthalene

Halogenated hydrocarbons
Chlorobenzene, Dichlorobenzene, Trichlorobenzene, Haxachlorbenzene, Dichloroethane, Trichloroethylene, Tetrachloroethylene, Dichloromethane, Trichloromethane, Carbontetrachloride

Phenol, Cresols, Ethylphenols, Biphenol, Dimethylphenol, Methoxyphenol, Chlorophenol, Chloro-m-cresol, Di-chlorophenol, Tetrachlorophenol

This is only a partial list, only one page of three, representing the more than one hundred fifty compounds found in water polluted by landfills. It also is a list of chemicals found in surface water polluted by certain sources. These have no limits as do fracking fluid components. Further, the state ( local health departments and DENR, Water Quality Section) does not test for these except under special circumstances.

Why do the opponents to gas drilling spend so much time on a future and undocumented source of pollution? One can only guess. There are other battles worth fighting to protect our health and safety. Since the easy path is to make a loud noise about a future perceived threat and hurt the chances of acceptance for the practice, this route was taken, rather than take on the daunting and lengthy battle to clean landfill leachate and surface waters supplying homes, cities and counties.

Among the myriads of technical articles and papers published on the subject of gas drilling, a basic comparison of gas drilling and landfill gas collection can be found in an article in the Chatham Journal from June 25, 2012.

An article on the water quality of the Haw River can be found in the Journal, June 25, 2011.

Fear is sometimes described as “false evidence appearing real.” In this case, the scare tactic uses fear to make the political point of one candidate over another. It also demeans the character and potential of that candidate by its use. This strategy is very disappointing in a year when so many real and important issues impact the future of Chatham County, North Carolina and the United States. Positive strategies and actions are required to make advances, not negative campaigns employing fear.

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The wrong panic list
State environmental departments and EPA testing have not found threats in drinking water from deep drilling.