I respectfully suggest that it is time to change the semantics about hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of natural gas from the Utica and Marcellus shales in this part of the country. The word "fracking" is hardly specific and not inclusive of the entire process of hydraulic fracturing. Industry spokespersons and proponents of this process usually refer to the actual fracturing process at the well (i.e. extraction), where, admittedly, risks are minimal and no evidence of pollution of aquifers exists.
What should be discussed in this context is the entire range of "operational hazards," which are associated with hydraulic fracturing, and the overall drilling, completion, and production operations. This includes the transport of the hazardous chemicals that are ultimately mixed with water, transport of vast quantities of sand, disposal of flow back from the fracturing process. It appears that Washington County will not be the site of many natural gas wells using this process, but our county will be affected by the transport of chemicals, building of disposal sites, and, as already evidenced, transport of large quantities of sand.
George E. King of the Apache Corporation, writing as a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, raises the issue of the proper transport of chemicals for hydraulic fracturing in collision-proof totes and double-walled containers. Are Ohio EPA and transportation officials monitoring this kind of protection of transported materials and are local communities protected by these controls of transporting hazardous materials? Another related question is the impact of all this transport on our state, county, and township roads.
When flow-back materials are transported to disposal wells, are they taken in these kinds of protected vehicles and are disposal wells themselves protected from polluting land and water?
A question raised in a recent New York Times article involved the lack of restrictions on hours spent on the road by drivers of vehicles who are employed by oil and gas companies. In that story a serious accident involving fatalities occurred when a truck going from Ohio to West Virginia was being driven by workers who had spent 10-hour-plus days working then drove back to the home base many miles away. Why aren't the requirements for rest between hauling trips that are applied to commercial truck drivers applied to truck drivers employed by oil and gas companies?
All of these questions also imply the need for base-line data (that is, information on the current state of our land and water resources and of our roads) before hydraulic fracturing begins so that we can assess the impact of all the operational hazards on our county's roads, lands, and water.