Tuesday, January 14, 2014

West Virginia Water Catastrophe Could Happen Anywhere

As 300,000 water-deprived citizens of the Charleston area of West Virginia continue to grapple with the six day old contamination of their water supply, it behooves Americans to understand this could happen to any of us - as the fracking insanity expands to many communities. Yes, those scenes of West Virginians in long lines to get a couple gallons of fresh water could in the future arrive at any place in which fracking wells and waste pits exist.

In the W Va case businesses in downtown Charleston are all shuttered as one beholds  'DO NOT USE WATER” signs taped over sinks at the airport.    What went wrong?  A chemical used in coal processing leaked from a storage tank upstream of the affected communities. The chemical, dubbed  “crude MCHM" and the technical name is 4- methylcyclohexane methanol.  In the water supply, the chemical betrays a licorice odor, and if the water is ingested it can wreak havoc on organs, from immediate nausea and vomiting to cancer of the pancreas, colon, liver and kidneys in the long term - as well as likely skin afflictions if bathed in.

Indeed scores of people in the affected area have reported to hospitals, complaining of rashes, upset stomachs and other ailments.  The problem is that despite the authorities telling citizens the water has been cleared (in progressive stages) the MCHM solvent has invaded the entire system from the treatment plant to the pipes in people's homes. Thus, even if the water itself may have been restored to its original drinkable-washable form, it is still subject to re-contamination as it passes through the now MCHM -laden pipes.  Thus, the complaints of people (as reported on the news shows last night) that they still smell the chemical. Of course they do, because the water is collecting it as it's transferred into and out of the pipes. To be truly clear, all the pipes will have to be replaced, though the authorities are unlikely to admit it. Meanwhile, one mother - a food stamps recipient with an infant -  said last night she will have to use a significant portion of food stamps on fresh   bottled water. (At the Dollar General in Charleston, a 20 oz Dasani bottle sells for $1.60, and a flat of 24 bottles can be had for $39. 

Seeing, reading of this brings to mind Jeremiah Gee, featured in Josh Fox's 'Gasland II'.  Viewers may recall the interior scenes of Gee's barn and the loads of bottled water which he needed to ship in monthly by the truckload, because ingesting the fracked water would be a death sentence. At a cost of over $1,000 a month he had no other choice, and as he noted, he even had to provide it to his chickens and pet dogs. The alternative was obviously too horrific to contemplate, the creatures would've died in agony from drinking the methane-laden crap.  This after the frack company, Shell Appalachia, despoiled the area reservoirs with its frack operations. When Gee inquired  about his tap water and why it was no longer clean, he was told that  "fresh" now meant "fresh to THIS site" - where the Co. was now fracking.  It didn't mean pure or free of contaminants, just free of contaminants from previous frack sites.   

In West Virginia, meanwhile, we learn two state employees tracked the MCHM leak to Freedom Industries which owns a row of vintage storage tanks along the banks of the Elk River. The chemical had leaked from a hole in the bottom of one tank. It had been pooling in a containment area and then seeped out through a porous, cinderblock retaining wall., down the bank and into the river. 

The water system itself was primed for a catastrophe. The intake for the West Virginia American Water Company's is just downriver by about a mile - and on the same side of the river -  as the leaking tanks with the MCHM.   Ironically, Freedom Industries had set aside $1 million in escrow to upgrade the containment area around the tanks, but the work had not yet begun.

Not so ironically, a state regulatory report in 2002 noted no fewer than 53 major sites of potential water contamination located upstream of the currently effected Elk River communities. The total number of potential contaminating sites was estimated "in the thousands".  West Virginia regulations, undoubtedly written by the corporatists and their political bedfellow, omitted any oversight on storage or containment facilities. Now, the citizens must pay.

But none of the rest of us ought to feel smug or secure, because if we have fracking nearby then we also can fell victim to a water contamination catastrophe. Any fracking pipe near or around a water supply can undergo failure. In one segment of Gasland II, Tony Ingraffea, a Cornell Professor of geological engineering sketched the interior cement annulus of 1 -inch frack pipe,  the sole barrier between the fracking contaminants and the proximate water supply. As he said, "What you don't want is for that cement to fail".

"Failure" included: corrosion, crumbling, or disappearing entirely as a barrier over time. If that happened, then "what's down there" (i.e. the contaminants) would get into the annulus

Prof. Ingraffea then rubbed out the chalk barrier representing the cement in the annulus, using his fingers and indicates an arrow moving into it from outside. To quote Prof. Ingraffea:

"So now shallow gas goes into the open annulus, pressurizes the annulus, and the gas migrates into an underground source of drinking water."

Once this occurred, other frack contaminants could also migrate into the water, such benzene, toluene and dozens of cancer causing chemicals.

Gasland II also showed how the frack well failure rates are progressive. As more years go by a greater and greater percentage of wells fail meaning leakage of pollutants.  Graphics presented showed a failure fraction of 40 percent after only 12 years, and a failure fraction of 50 percent after 30 years.  That means if 1.5 million new wells are added in the US of A, as projected, 750,000 will leak after thirty years. If 180,000 are added to PA, that means 90,000 will leak after 30 years. (Recall from Gasland II the citizens of Dimock were deprived of fresh water and had to get bottled shipped in, especially after being denied a water pipeline connection to the public supply in Montrose, PA after Repuke Guv John Corbett came to power (with the help of $1.6m in donations from frackers).

Rest easy as those in West Virginia are left without clean water? No way because we are all at risk. How else explain the writing and passing of a law that actually exempts the frackers from the Safe Drinking Water Act?  Read more at:


and: https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/06/04

Also, see this Youtube presentation on the gas industry's misinformation campaign and why you, as a citizen, need to see this documentary however you can. What befalls and affects your fellow citizens also affects you. The corporate gangster state laying waste to your fellow citizens' lives will also one day come to destroy yours, if you are passive, blasé  and non-engaged.


As Josh Fox observes, quoting the mayor of Dish, TX, "Now you know. Once you know, you can't  not know".

See also:



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