CHARLESTON - While many see the economic opportunities from the development of the Marcellus and Utica Shale deposits, some groups are raising concerns over the processes used in fracking and extracting the gas from deep underground.
Chuck Wyrostok, of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said there are a number of issues emerging as drilling operations have gotten under way.
Among those are waste being taken from drilling sites to landfills, naturally radioactive materials brought up from underground and a lack of testing on how that material might affect workers at a site, the long-term affects of that material being put into landfills and effects to local ground water and water supplies.
Protests held Feb. 1 at the K&H Injection Well in Athens County illustrate a number of problems some local people are having with the process of fracking natural gas in the region. Water safety, hazardous materials and other concerns are being brought up at a time others are seeing the possibility of economic development.
"There are so many concerns," Wyrostok said.
Kip Rondy, co-owner of Green Edge Gardens in Amesville, Ohio, was among those recently arrested for blocking the K&H Injection Well in Athens County.
Rondy, 64, who had a farm in Lincoln County, W.Va., for 10 years, said extractive industries have a history of taking materials and wealth away and leaving the people there impoverished. While these industries are in place, little infrastructure is built for the long-term benefit of the area, he said.
"The areas end up being depleted and worse off than what they were before," he said.
Wyrostok said drilling companies are reluctant to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process, claiming it is a trade secret, despite possible dangers to workers and medical professionals who deal with problems.
"First-responders, medical responders and hospitals need to know what they might be dealing with," he said.
In 2012, the West Virginia Sierra Club called for a moratorium on the issuance of new permits for drilling of natural gas wells until minimum legal protections were instituted.
Wyrostok said more inspection is needed throughout the process.
"There are several stages in the process that should have inspectors on scene," he said. "They don't have enough to do that."
Concerns also have been raised over the cement used in the wells. The cement can crack and cause leaks.
"Casings can fail over a period of time," he said. "Fluid can get into the aquifers, water can be poisoned and there would be no way to fix it."
Another concern is the amount of chemicals and water pumped underground and what the long term affects could be, he said.
"People don't realize what the volume of chemicals used on a site are," Wyrostok said.
Around 25,000 gallons of chemicals are used per frack, he said.
"Those are not small quantities," Wyrostok said.
The mass of materials being put underground is of great concern in how it will affect the ground water and aquifers, Rondy said.
"There are a lot of ways for something to get into the aquifers," he said. "Even with all of the technology available, there is no way to know for certain that the aquifers won't be contaminated."
Some of the wells in the area, such as Class 2 injection wells, are not monitored and supervised as closely as a Class 1 well, Rondy said.
Ohio is being used as a dumping ground for waste from a number of states, he said. If that material is not considered dangerous, then why are companies trucking it out-of-state and not disposing of it themselves within their own borders, Rondy asked.
"The reality is we are being duped," he said.
No provisions are in place for accepting waste that contains carcinogenic chemicals that can seep into the water table, Wyrostok said.
Around 3 to 5 million of gallons of water are used per frack, Wyrostok said. Most of the water used goes below the water table.
"That water stays underground," Wyrostok said. "That is around 5 million gallons taken out of the water supply. That is many millions of gallons that will never be part of the natural water cycle."
With water supplies becoming an issue in parts of the country, taking water out of the cycle can be dangerous, he said.
"Wars have been fought in parts of the world because of scarce water supplies," Wyrostok said. "We are asking people to be aware how this will affect future generations. Water is life. There is no getting around that. Water shortages causes conflict."
Wyrostok does not blame people looking at the economic possibilities, but that needs to be balanced by looking at the environmental negatives.
Rondy said his arrest was an effort to generate discussion within the community.
There have been a number of issues where people have become very divisive among people. He wants honest discussion of the issues at hand so the community can look at it and make an educated decision.
"We have an obligation to the coming generation to provide them clean drinking water," he said. "If we can't then we destroy our future. A community is definitely based on water."