Don't forget the 'micro' effects of shale gas development

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Jared Cohon's Forum article ("The Way Forward on Shale," June 9) makes a lot of good points about the "macro" reasons why shale gas should be given a chance to develop, from coal's bad environmental profile to national security and energy independence. He also sees the need for continuous improvement, just like in any industry, through the agency of the Center for Sustainable Shale Gas Development.

But he also has the outlook of an engineer and a university president -- everything seems so rational. I look at the "micro" side of shale gas fracking, where the health and safety of people living near the fracking sites intersects, and I see a very different picture.

The state Department of Environmental Protection reported several years ago that 7 percent of casings and sleeves on fracking well drill sites fracture and leak, which is a very high percentage of error for an industrial process (one out of every 14 well sites). Clearly, something is wrong with the quality of the casings or the process of installing them, and it affects the water of people nearby.

The 100-plus chemicals that go down in fracking holes (20 to 40 percent of which come back up to the surface) are full of toxins and carcinogens like benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde. These, too, are "micro" effects that will damage human health over a number of years if you live close enough to a fracking site.

Recently (February 2013) a company (Halliburton) found an environmentally friendly suite of chemicals for fracking (called CleanStim) that come from the food processing industry (of all places!). There has been no rush to use these environmentally neutral chemicals.

Mr. Cohon is right -- best practices need to be pushed, and there is a lot of room for improvement in fracking. But don't forget the "micro" effects that have extreme impacts on the health and safety of those living near the fracking sites.




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