Communities must come together for water/air quality
To the Editor,
In response to the Tecumseh Herald, April 15 article on oil and gas drilling in Lenawee County, specifically in the Irish Hills, West Bay Exploration Vice-President, Gary Gottschalk’s assurance that there will be no need for hydraulic fracturing, masks critical details. Though hydraulic fracturing is not an issue, at this time, as Gottschalk states in an interview with the Brooklyn Exponent on April 6, the use of toxic chemicals is.
Toxic chemicals are used in the drilling for oil and gas as friction reducers; biocides; to drill boreholes; to stabilize the well bore; enhance shale inhibition; to inhibit water activity and create osmotic forces preventing absorption of water by shales; to enhance drilling rate of penetration, cooling and lubricating of equipment; to lift rock cuttings to the surface; to frack, to clean or otherwise prepare and stimulate the reservoir rock to optimally produce hydrocarbons into the well bore.
Add in chemicals that occur within the Earth’s strata, ones that don’t constitute a hazard to human or environmental health, until they’re disturbed. A third category of toxic chemicals results from chemical reactions to form new compounds when human-introduced and naturally occurring substances come into contact with each other. There’s no getting around it, chemicals are an integral part of the oil and gas drilling process.
Major sources of air, water and ground pollution in oil and natural gas production are from oil spills and gas leaks. OSHA states that exposures of hydrogen sulfide usually occur during the drilling for or production of natural gas, crude oil and petroleum products. The serious and potentially lethal hazard occurs naturally in swamps and wetlands and when dislodged, becomes a water pollutant and an 18-hour airborne contaminant producing apnea; coma; convulsions; irritated eyes; conjunctivitis pain, lacrimation, photophobia, corneal vesiculation; respiratory system irritation; dizziness; headaches, fatigue, insomnia; GI disturbances, listed by EPA. OSHA states that workers exposed to lower concentrations of hydrogen sulfide may develop chronic bronchitis while other studies attribute poor attention span, memory and motor function to the gas. High airborne levels of the gas catch fire, if there is a source of ignition, producing the highly toxic chemical, sulfur dioxide. Individuals living near a gas and oil drilling operation may be exposed to higher levels of hydrogen sulfide. It is a colorless, transparent gas with a characteristic of a rotten-egg odor at low concentrations and not detectable by odor at high concentrations.
Based on current evaluations, EPA has determined that hydrogen sulfide can reasonably be anticipated to cause serious or irreversible chronic human health effects and can cause significant adverse effects in aquatic organisms. (Federal Register/Vol. 75, No. 38/Friday, February 26, 2010/Proposed Rules, p. 8893)
Oil and gas facilities are not required to file annual TRI reports for hydrogen sulfide, but EPA is considering lifting the Administrative Stay of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting requirements for hydrogen sulfide. Oil and gas companies are exempt from divulging the names of toxic chemicals used under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005.
They’re not required to report their greenhouse gas emissions, though other industries must comply by 2011. Although natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, the drilling and production of oil/gas is responsible for some 18% of the world’s human-caused emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is the main component of natural gas, according to the EPA.
As oil and gas facilities are entering urban areas all across America, research is proving that neighborhoods, schools and workers in close proximity to oil/gas activities may be at increased risk for cancer; cardiovascular disease; asthma and other disorders due to industry pollutants; diesel exhaust; VAD, a vibroacoustic disease caused by excessive exposure to low-frequency noise such as found in natural gas compressor stations. There are liquid spills and fugitive gaseous emissions from storage tanks; damaged well bores seeping chemicals into aquifers; drill site pits evaporating pollutants into the atmosphere; contaminated well water. Long-term consequences involving imminent domain issues with pipeline infrastructure; antiquated pipe lines; regulation of pipelines in rural areas; seismic impact from exploration on underground stability, and property values are valid concerns.
How can anyone think that the decision to drill for oil and gas is a simple matter?
From January to mid-April, 679 leases have been registered with the County Register of Deeds. Quite a few of these leases are lake lots in the Irish Hills. The Irish Hills is the head water source for the River Raisin Watershed— a five county, 1,072 square miles of waterways — lakes, ponds, man-made drainage systems, 22 mainstream dams and 38 tributary dams located in southeast Michigan— all of which empty into Lake Erie. In other words, what happens in the Irish Hills, matters to a whole lot more than an isolated decision to lease one’s mineral rights.
Communities must come together for dialogue, people must become educated on current issues involving the quality of water and air, and government and corporations must learn to operate in a non-partisan and self-serving manner on issues affecting the health and well being of us all. A daunting task, for sure.