By now, I am sure most people in West Virginia have heard the words "fracking" and Marcellus Shale. To some, the words bring on visions of jobs, prosperity and new horizons for our state. But for others, these words bring one thought: Water.
The gas industry has been accused of inadvertently poisoning water aquifers with their drilling practices. Reports of fracking wastewater being dumped on roads, in streams and wooded areas are numerous. Some cases result in arrest. But what most people don't realize is that, in the words of biologist Sandra Steingraber, hydraulic fracturing "makes fresh water disappear."
Think back to your elementary school science texts. Groundwater evaporates to become clouds; clouds bring rain; rain refills rivers, lakes and the oceans; groundwater is evaporated again to become clouds and so goes the water cycle. Water from the aquifers is brought to the surface, used, put into the same cycle, and rainwater seeps into the ground to refill the aquifers. So far so good.
But what will happen when an enormous amount of that water is lost? Each time a gas well is drilled and fracked, somewhere between 4 to 6 million gallons of fresh, clean water is used. Approximately 60 percent to 80 percent of that now toxic water will stay about a mile or so underground, hopefully entombed well below the water tables. The rest comes up as flow back or wastewater, poisoned by chemicals used in the fracking process and various elements it encountered deep underground: brine, radioactive elements and heavy metals, among others. This flowback water is toxic, and cannot be fixed. At this time, most of it is being reinjected into deep underground disposal wells in the hopes it won't resurface.
But that's the amount used for one well. In New York state, for example, the gas industries are proposing over 77,000 new wells. Do the math - 77,000 times the average of 5 million is 385 billion gallons of fresh water, gone forever. No one in our state could give me a number (or no one wanted to) of wells proposed for West Virginia. But even if it were one-third as many, the amount of water lost would be devastating.
By now you may be asking yourself, where does all this water come from? Is it trucked in from another state? Is it brought to us on ships from China? Is it magically brought into existence by the gas industry? Unfortunately, no. This water is being sucked out of West Virginia streams, creeks, lakes and aquifers. It is taken from your water, my water, our water. In our neighboring state, the "Water Management Plan for the SW Pennsylvania Region" allows gas corporations to withdraw water from 10 counties in the Ohio River Watershed, totaling over 48 million gallons per day to be used in fracking. Are we headed down the same path?
West Virginia, in my humble opinion, is the most beautiful state in the nation. It is like a secret garden, its ancient paths and waterways and hidden woods unseen to many from the outside. The best kept secret in the nation. To lose the water that sustains this Eden so that a few corporations can get rich would be criminal.
Protect what we have. Take pictures of a stream, or river, or creek that runs through your property. If you have a favorite fishing spot, or swimming hole, get the water levels on film now. Measure and note levels in all four seasons. If you see a truck withdrawing water from an unmarked site, do some amateur investigating and find out if they are doing it legally. If you have a well, get it tested for common drilling chemicals by an independent company as soon as possible, before drilling commences in your area. Report things that don't look kosher - discolored streams, stains on river banks, oily sheens on water surfaces, dead zones in grasses and woods. Work to elect representatives in our state who care about the health, safety and environment of West Virginia and its people. And work to unseat politicians whose interests in our state are split between the protection of the people and the funds they are receiving from gas corporations. Until then it will be up to all of us to save this slice of heaven.