by Stephanie Simmons
Part of sensible terra-based risk assessment analysis includes the evaluation of the collective geology of a given region, and its existing assets or detriments to a given approach or technology.
In the case of unconventional horizontal acquisition of natural gas in the Marcellus black shale, there is no evidence that real world environmental hazards and their history as well as legacy were included in the assessment. Apparently, nor were migration problems, structural integrity, or transfer and transport incidents. At a 4.5% accident rate, this particular form of gas acquisition has exceeded the mere 1.4% accident rate of coal mining over its entire historic existence. This does not include the number of accidents that may have a gas migration and contamination component. No one wants to think of the implications of that.
Even in the vacuum that was black shale gas acquisition assessment by the industry, risk was labeled as high by those consultants paid to assess this approach: high risk to workers, and even to the shale itself. Supporting documents are included.
An already aging infrastructure in the commonwealth does not lend itself well to a geological approach that would without a doubt advance deterioration of said infrastructure by increasing instability of the sedimentary layer and strata, as well as filling substrate vacated by gas vapors with sand insufficient to support between 7,000 and 10,000 ft of low and high volatile bituminous coal, anthracite, various combinations of soil, limestone, quartz, the presence of Cd, Cs, Pb, Hg, Strontium, radon, methane, aquifers, underground streams, the Wisconsin Glacier and the proverbial partridge in a pear tree.
The process of acquisitioning the natural gas within the shale along a pre-Jurassic fault line releases salts that are highly corrosive and acid pH so low that macroinvertebrates and macrophytes cannot thrive in it. Soil pH is impacted as well, creating a highly undesirable environment for any infrastructure that touches air, soil, and water in this region.
To exacerbate this already critical element, water treatment plants have been changing their preferred method of treatment away from chlorine to other water purifiers that are more stable, but high acid themselves. This is due to the presence of bromides that come hand in hand with this development. Some forms of treatment already in use in Allegheny County will dissolve rubber, leech old sediment, heavy metals including lead, and other hazards out of aging pipes and directly into businesses and households. Remediation equipment is cost prohibitive per household in a county with the largest population of elders on fixed income in the nation, whose remaining population (thanks to legacy pollution) is living on average 10.34 years less than our comparable neighbors.
For infrastructure in our region, this is the Perfect Storm of stupid, as threats come from every angle originating from a single source-a pebble drop called black shale natural gas acquisition that has concentric circles of impact so profound that it will impact the infrastructure of every community. The endocrine disrupting chemicals used by the dozens in this industry also have an impact as they combine further with legacy challenges like AMD and now the 21st century xenobiotics.
This industry evaluated its turn of the 20th century technology that was abandoned long ago by those thinking it was too dangerous and resurrected it for profit based on short sightedness and flawed science whose shabbiness will lead us to a domino effect incidence-one that will put first responders, 80% of whom are volunteers in this commonwealth in harm's way without proper equipment, training, compensation, or reimbursement.
Water is our sacred currency. We cannot survive without it, and WE are the infrastructure than cannot be replaced.