Eerie symmetry: Well Blowout on Anniversary of BP Spill
The symmetry is just eerie.
Exactly one year after the BP disaster in the Gulf, natural gas drilling company Chesapeake admitted that a well it was hydraulically fracturing (or “fracking”) for natural gas went out of control in LeRoy, Pennsylvania late Tuesday, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, farms – even where cattle continue to graze – and into a stream.
(For those new to the issue, hydraulic fracturing is a controversial gas extraction technique in which companies blast millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to break up the rock and force out the gas. Lots more info on fracking is here.)
As of publication time, the well was still leaking.
To plug the well, it appears the embattled Chesapeake is following a move from the failed BP disaster response playbook – using, according to Reuters, “a mix of plastic, ground-up tires and heavy mud to plug the well,” aka BP's ‘top kill’ effort. (DeSmogBlog, one of the first to break news of the spill, warns that we should brace ourselves for a trip down memory lane.)
Unable to stop the well from leaking, Chesapeake did what it could to distract from its failed efforts – announcing that it was suspending hydraulic fracturing operations in Pennsylvania.
But even as Chesapeake did so, oil and gas industry cheerleader/climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) bizarrely and inexplicably tried to convince the public that the disaster has ‘nothing to do with fracking.’ His logic was fuzzy. It seemed as if his argument had something to do with the disaster taking place above ground, though I'm not sure how the thought of thousands of gallons of fracking chemicals spilling into rivers and streams in plain sight is supposed to make us feel better. Anyway, someone better get him some new talking points, stat, because that just doesn’t make any sense.
We, on the other hand, have our talking points honed. Press reports said that environmental advocates ‘pounced’ on the news of the blowout. We sure did. Who else is going to tell it like it really is? Not the oil and gas industry, that’s for sure.
As Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg told the Associated Press.
“How many wells need to blow out, how many people need to get sick, how many communities need to be devastated before elected leaders say ‘enough is enough’? The gas has been there for millions of years, it can stay there a little longer until we figure out how – and if – we can extract it safely."
Precisely because the oil and gas industry remains stubbornly out of touch with people’s concerns about extreme forms of energy development, the tides of public opinion appear to be turning ever more against them.
Even folks employed by the gas boom are admitting that drilling has done more harm than good. Reuters has this telling tidbit:
Harold Shedden, 75, grades roads in LeRoy Township and has had steady work from gas companies repairing roads of the damage caused by their trucks.
Yet he wonders what will happen when the land leases expire and the drilling companies leave.
“There have been a lot of jobs in the community but in the long run, it's going to hurt us."
Harold Shedden, I’m going to let you have the last word because you’re absolutely right.