This reckless practice means that wastewater and toxic chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process can be swept into rivers during floods.
This practice of allowing drilling in floodplains must stop, because it creates public health hazards.
Pictured above is a drilling site near a stream in northeastern Pennsylvania (Susquehanna County) that was flooded on January 26 after heavy rains. This photo, and the ones below, are from the website of the Susquehanna River Sentinel, which granted permission for them to be posted here.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and its partners in Trout Unlimited are demanding that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection order gas companies to remove their well drilling operations from flood-prone areas. CBF and Trout Unlimited are also calling for the closure of current legal loopholes that allow drilling in floodplains.
Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a process in which drillers inject millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals into the ground to crack rock and release natural gas. The drilling companies use hydrocholoric acid and other toxic chemicals that have the potential to spill and cause damage to the environment, as Bay Daily reported in December. Wastewater from drilling sites is also heavy in salts and other minerals that can harm freshwater streams.
"The handling of fracking chemicals and highly contaminated drilling wastewater in floodplains is an environmental disaster waiting to happen. It has to stop," said Matt Ehrhart, executive director of CBF's Pennsylvania office.
CBF has found serious flaws in the "fast track" permitting process that Pennsylvania instituted in April 2009 to encourage drilling in a formation of black rock called the Marcellus Shale. More than 650 wells have been drilled across Pennsylvania over the last four years, tapping into this formation.
Last August, CBF appealed three erosion and sediment control permits that had been issued by the state for drilling sites in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. CBF's appeals resulted in the state reviewing the plans and revoking all three permits because of serious deficiencies.
Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell recently announced plans to hire 68 additional staff to increase inspections and improve compliance of drilling sites in the Marcellus shale region. Some of this additional staff should be used to more carefully scrutinize permit applications, and keep drillers out of flood-prone areas like these.