Shale-Gas in Massachusetts?
American Ground Water Trust Information Program, University of Massachusetts – Amherst – December 2012
The Hartford Basin was identified by the United State Geologic Survey in a June 2012 report as one of several Mesozoic-aged geologic basins along the Atlantic coast with potential to host reserves of shale gas. The Connecticut River Valley encompasses much of the geologic terrane of the Hartford Basin. On Thursday December 13, the American Ground Water Trust (AGWT) held an informational forum on shale gas and hydraulic fracking at the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst, MA. Previous AGWT shale-gas educational programs have been held in Austin, TX and Raleigh, NC.
Over fifty people attended the Massachusetts program which focused on the jurisdictional, policy and governance issues that would be faced by individuals and municipalities if and when shale gas development were to occur in the Connecticut River Valley region of western Massachusetts and Connecticut. In addition to Massachusetts geology and legal experts, speakers from Texas and New York, regions with active shale gas extraction, provided insight on what to expect and how other communities and jurisdictions have responded to the control and management of shale-gas development.
The purpose of the AGWT program was to bring shale gas issues, prior to any shale-gas development, to the forefront in a region with no history of fossil fuel recovery. The forum provided the mostly Massachusetts and Connecticut participants with a better understanding of the possible issues related to gas development following landowner’ decisions to enter into lease agreements with energy industry companies. By understanding “what to expect,” attendees at the forum now have an opportunity to review and assess the effectiveness of current policies and regulations in their communities to address issues if and when shale-gas development is proposed.
Among the many points raised at the program, the Amherst presentations explained the difference between “hydraulic fracture” used in the shale gas industry involving chemicals, and the chemical-free “hydro-fracture” that is frequently used successfully by the New England water well industry to increase water yield in private drinking water wells.
The forum also emphasized the importance of basing ground water protection and land use decisions on sound research methods and validated science. The AGWT stressed the value of private water wells as a significant water supply source in New England that supported citizen independence and self-sufficiency as well as lowering regional infrastructure costs for providing safe water supplies.
A barrier to effective groundwater protection is the tremendous focus specifically directed towards “fracking” rather than on the whole complex of processes involved in exploration, development, operation and closure of shale-gas operations. The AGWT belief is that when problems occur from the development of shale-gas, it is more likely to result from surface storage & handling of chemicals and return water treatment & disposal than from the actual deep hydraulic fracturing process. It appears that direct ground water contamination related to the fracking process is a rare event (http://nywea.org/clearwaters/10-4-winter/8.pdf and http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/343202/description/The_Facts_Behind_the_Frack) . Groundwater protection concerns should be framed against the whole shale-gas development process .