For Release Saturday, January 28, 2012
There’s much more to be said about hydrofracking, the topic of my Citiwire column last week which generated quite a bit of comment.
Consider, for example, the pipelines.
Hydrofracking involves injecting clean water, sand and an undisclosed combination of chemicals into the shale to free the gas from vast lateral reserves that are then brought to the surface. Each well site — known as as a pad — contains multiple wells on three to four acres of compacted gravel. The sites are spaced maybe 40 acres apart and connected by pipelines crisscrossing the land.
In recent years, local fights occurred in many farm areas when windmills started to fill the landscape, kill birds and emit noise heard at great distances. People worried about the impact on the land of the pipeline grid required to distribute the generated energy. In the case of gas, the grid connection is a more complex piping system, indeed one so vast that it is difficult at this point to fully comprehend how many pipelines and multiple compressors will be required as wells proliferate, or how many farms, wetlands, woodlands and mountain tops they will cross. Gas makes windmills look benign in the impact on the land.
“To connect to the larger, interstate pipelines” companies are moving forward “on what is expected to be thousands of miles of smaller pipelines,” Marc Levy of the Associated Press wrote in August. And that doesn’t include a possible network of water pipelines called for to avoid the current endless truck trips required to deliver water.
Pipelines require wide cleared swaths through forests, mountain tops, farm fields and wetlands. The sediment runoff into streams and rivers understandably concerns environmentalists, noting that rising riverbeds from increased sediment accumulation increases flood opportunities. After Hurricane Irene, northeastern Pennsylvania, where I visited, was heavily flooded.
Levy also reported that the EPA raised environmental concerns about a new interstate pipeline project, the MARC-I, which is proposed by a Kansas City company to be constructed in northern Pennsylvania’s rural Endless Mountains region. The EPA noted that the line, which would travel into New York, would pose the threat of pollution to 111 sensitive streams and water bodies and split 39 miles of undeveloped forest and farm land in an area that supports a robust ecosystem, high quality of life and recreation. Nevertheless, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found “no significant impact” and approved the project, thus giving the company the power of eminent domain to confiscate private property for the pipeline.
Gas needs to be compressed at multiple points along a route to flow through a pipeline. Compressor stations are required at close intervals. Compressors clean the gas of impurities before it is piped into peoples’ homes down the line. The noise from these compressors can be deafening.
Mountain and hilltops seem to be the preferred sites for drill pads and holding areas. They are out of sight, for one thing, and avoid the run-off into creeks and streams that has been a problem. No one sees them until the burning off of the methane (mostly at night), although some companies claim to be recapturing the methane that should be required. If methane were to be recaptured, a separate pipeline would be needed — or yet more truck trips would be required.
Once windmills are created, that’s it. They are there, complete. The popular belief is that once the well is functioning, all the rigs and other equipment goes away. But gas wells often need refracking as the volume of captured gas diminishes from a well. Then of course, the drill rigs return with all that comes with them.
Roberta Brandes Gratz is an urban critic and author of the newly published The Battle For Gotham: New York In the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, 2010, Nation Books.
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