The facts are not all in

By Phyllis Swackhamer


Dear Editor:

With only a few weeks until the end of the BLM's comment period on its Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP), which will guide its decisions for the next 20-30 years, there needs to be more public education about the harms of oil and gas development. I can provide citations for any of the facts I report. What was called "fracking" decades ago was done to wells that were only a few hundred feet deep and used small quantities of materials consisting of approximately 750 gallons of fluid and 400 pounds of proponent (usually screened river sand). Horizontal drilling technology did not even exist.

Compare that to a 2011 report from Chesapeake Energy of its drilling in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania: an average well is drilled 5,300 feet deep and now uses between 65,000 and 600,000 gallons of water, and the ensuing fracking operation requires an average of 4.5 million gallons of fluids and hundreds of thousands of pounds of sand. In the Marcellus shale horizontal drilling can be done up to 10,000 feet. These numbers (plus the quantity of wells now fracked ~ 55,000 in Colorado alone) should alarm us because of the magnitude of risks to ground and surface waters, the increase of spills from wastewater and fracking fluids, the leaks and venting of combinations of gases including the potent greenhouse gas, methane.

I would like to point out that over 80 percent of the peer-reviewed science studies exposing the harms of fracking have only come out since 2013! Studies showing the effects on human and animal health due to toxins in air and water are rapidly accumulating. Negative impacts from oil and gas production alone are huge and, of course, future burning adds to the crisis. These impacts should be reported to the public through our mass media -- but unfortunately that is not happening. Instead we see "glossy" ads glorifying natural gas. While each negative impact deserves its own letter, I would like to conclude with facts little known to many people.

Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) is found in many places on Earth, including deep underground. Fracking (for both oil and gas) and the wastewater brought up in that process can concentrate that radioactive material. Here I will quote, "The rise of hydraulic fracturing over the past decade has created another boom: tons of radioactive materials experts call an 'orphan' waste stream. No federal agency fully regulates oil and gas drilling byproducts -- which include brine, sludge, rock and soiled equipment -- leaving tracking and handling to states that may be reluctant to alienate energy interests."

A study this spring from Duke University examined 3,900 wastewater spills over a five-year period in North Dakota. Researchers found levels of radioactivity many times higher than allowed in streams, rivers and soils. So downstream people are drinking and irrigating with "upstream's" radioactive wastes. Radioactive substances can last for millennia. Concentrations of salts and heavy metals are also in this wastewater. Why is our mass media not telling us about these things?

While the negative impacts accumulate, scientists have been working for years to determine a way forward to get our nation and our world off of fossil fuels. Please look up the work of Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University's director of Atmosphere and Energy Program. Their team has determined that without the use of any new technologies, we have the resources for each of the 50 states to generate 80-85 percent of America's power with wind, sun, and water by 2030 (14 years away). A hundred percent could be generated by 2050. The team has also offered similar plans for over 139 nations. With this opportunity so close, why would we continue to pollute our land, air and water, compromising our health and the future of those who come after us?

In spite of this information, the BLM, the agency which is the caretaker of our public lands and their resources, has identified 90 percent of the BLM lands and minerals in all Western states as open to oil and gas leasing. In our own BLM field office area the draft RMP preferred alternative would open up almost 95 percent of the BLM public land and minerals for oil and gas leasing. If we are going to protect our health and and our future, please let the BLM UFO Field Office in Montrose know in writing by Nov. 1 that the only acceptable position is for there to be NO NEW LEASING for oil and gas in our area.

Phyllis Swackhamer
Paonia