Most of us have heard the term “fracking” over the past few years — the process in which shale rock deep beneath Earth’s surface is fractured by hydraulic pressure or nitrogen liquids in order to free natural gas trapped inside the rock. We’ve also heard the growing debate over the safety of fracking, one in which East Tennessee may find itself in the very middle of in the coming years.
The region, with Chattanooga at nearly dead center, sits atop a layer of shale rock known as “Chattanooga Shale.”
About six natural gas drilling companies have looked at mineral rights and property leases in the Chattanooga Shale in recent years, readying themselves to setup drilling operations in the area. However many environmental groups speculate that a drilling lease has already been made in the Hamilton County, TN area, based on industry blogs.
The debate is a rather complicated one that could have a lasting effect on areas where fracking occurs. Water wells and other resources in some states have become polluted with methane and other pollutants from the process, so the answers to fracking’s safety is a complicated one.
While everyone is interested in America’s energy independence and moving further away from foreign oil, many feel that compromising the safety of clean and safe water is a more important resource.
Gas drilling industry officials say fracking “hysteria” is unfounded. In a recent interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press (bit.ly/Vh7A6K), John Bonar, general manager of Atlas Energy said, “Between 1 million and 2 million wells have been fracked since 1947.”
Atlas Energy Tennessee is one of several gas-drilling companies looking at Tennessee’s shale for production.
Bonar continued, “It’s a rare event when there’s a problem. … We’re trying to get gas out of the ground. We don’t want to lose it [in a water body or the air.] It’s not in our interest to see it leak off.”
EXTERNAL LINK: HOW FRACKING WORKS
Environmental advocates say fracking — with either large amounts of water or nitrogen gas and less water still isn’t a safe method for Tennessee.
“Injecting nitrogen and water into a gas well in karst [cave and sinkhole-riddled] geology is bad,” says Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network. “It’s bad for groundwater, drinking water and surface water.”
You can look online and find many horror stories from communities where fracking has already taken place where they have so much methane in their wells and water that the supplies become flammable.
EXTERNAL LINK: DANGERS OF FRACKING
According to Hoyos, the new rules imposed for Tennessee don’t even require drillers to test wells or notify neighbors unless they pump in more than 200,000 gallons of water.
There’s other concerns with the Chattanooga Shale itself, which is known to form dangerous radon when exposed on a roadside or in a home’s basement.
Many questions still loom large on the future of fracking and its’ actual safety and environmental impact, but it seems almost certain that the day is coming where it’s a true possibility in our state.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press