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Toxic Environment

That really is the only way to characterize the discussions surrounding environmental issues and fracking in particular. On this fine Montana morning the following questions come to mind. I've perused some of the science to check on the answers, I'll give extra credit to whomever wants to throw out their best guesses to each.

One of the two most serious "risks" thought to be present from hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas is the contamination of well-water from upwelled gas and/or the escape of methane from the well-sites themselves. Now, to the best of my knowledge, methane is odorless, but explosive – which is why the methane coming into your house has a smell added to it. But reflect upon the following questions for a moment and then ask yourselves how often any of this information has been provided in any article you have read about the dangers of "fracking" or in any discussion of fracking you have had with friends or foes. As I said, the debate is toxic, tiring and infuriating. We are living in the large-scale equivalent of David Koresh's compound.


•Is methane toxic and if so at what concentrations?

•Does methane cause irritation to the eyes or skin?

•What happens if you eat methane?

•Does continued exposure to methane cause cancer?

•Does continued exposure to methane interfere with reproduction?

•Does methane accumulate in the fats and other parts of the body? For example, one of Rachel Carson's worst fears from pesticides and herbicides in Silent Spring was not that any particular exposure was bad but that continued exposure would build up, or that certain food supplies would contain chemicals, which would be eaten by predators who would concentrate the chemicals, which would be eaten by us … so even if ambient exposures were small, actual exposures could be quite large.

•Does methane harm fetuses and children?

•Does methane interact with other materials? Again, going back to Rachel Carson and Silent Spring even if a particular exposure is small and harmless, various chemicals and elements are thought to interact harmfully with other elements which together could cause harm that each, independently, would not. Is this the case with methane?

Inquiring minds want to know (well, we actually know, this inquiring mind wants to know if you know).

4 Responses to “Toxic Environment”

  1. None says:

    As far as I am aware the groundwater contamination issue is not that its mixing with methane. Rather the fluids pumped into the well usually contain acid and other chemicals meant to help "loosen" up the the fractures in the rock to let the gas come out. Its groundwater contamination with these fluids that is the main issue. These concerns are entirely legitimate imv.

  2. wintercow20 says:

    Re: None –> that is why I said it was one of TWO risks. The issue of fracking chemicals will be covered shortly, but the really quick answer is that there is virtually no evidence that these are leaching into water sources and this major study that I cite above does not even test for the stuff. Most of the chemicals stay down, what does come out is trucked to treatment plants or used to refrack new wells … more to come …

  3. Harry says:

    The reason they add the odorizer is, as you say, to let one smell its presence. The odorizer is put in by the pipeline company at the point of sale to the gas utility. The pipeline company has special sensors to check for leaks — ever see those yellow/orange candy cane pipes along the highway? The pipeline maintenance people “sniff” those pipes regularly.

    “Sour” gas coming out of a well — that is, containing H2S — is lethal and corrosive to pipes; it is removed in the gathering area and burned.

    I do not know if CH4 is hazardous otherwise, except it is highly flammable. I would bet it would kill you if you walked into a room full of it. However, if it were to escape into the open air, I would expect it to oxidize quickly.

    Pilpelines compress gas to 800 psi to transport it, and in that state it is most hazardous. A lot of effort goes into preventing any digging along the way. Also, a lot of money is spent on keeping pipelines clean and free of corrosion.

    As I understand it, 99% of the fluid used in fracking is water and sand; the sand serves as little pillars in the shale to let the gas escape. The main contaminant coming out of the well is salt — not a problem if you are drilling in the ocean, but a problem if you pump it into a trout stream. As you say, they reuse this water in other wells, but eventually you have to truck it away to a treatment facility, where the water evaporates and returns to the commons as rain. As Wintercow says.

    Yes, methane is a greenhouse gas, but so is water vapor, which overwhelms all other greenhouse gases. Lucky for us they are there.

  4. Michael says:

    If methane is really hazardous to our health, I should have gotten hazardousvduty pay when I was on a submarine. The mayor of NY will probably need to shut down the Mexican restaurants, too.

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