Connecticut environmentalists are so worried about "fracking" that they want it banned from this state even though geologists and energy industry officials insist there's very little chance of it ever happening here.
Fracking is short for "hydraulic fracturing." It's the increasingly controversial method of pumping huge amounts of water and chemicals thousands of feet into the earth to force natural gas out from shale deposits.
Critics blame fracking for earthquakes in Ohio and water pollution near wells in states from the Midwest to Pennsylvania. A group of environmental activists from around Connecticut met in Hartford recently to talk about fracking and plot their anti-fracking strategy.
We do have an extensive shale deposit called the Hartford Basin running down through the center of our state along the I-91 corridor. Scientists like former state geologist Ralph S. Lewis say it's not the sort of shale that contains petroleum or natural gas.
"There's a lot of shale in the U.S. where there's no natural gas," says Steven Guveyan, executive director of the Connecticut Petroleum Council, which represents the oil and natural gas industries here. He says there's absolutely no indication that Connecticut has any natural gas hiding within its shale deposit.
"To our knowledge, there's none anywhere in New England," Guveyan says. "There's nothing going on here — no leases, no drilling."
The U.S. Geological Surveyrecently released its analysis of likely natural gas/shale deposits and listed five locations along the East Coast, running from North Carolina up through Virginia and into Pennsylvania. It also mentioned the Hartford Basin among several shale deposits that weren't included in the U.S.G.S. assessment survey.
Environmentalists like Martin Mador, legislative and political chairman for the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club, aren't convinced that we're safe from the fracking plague. "It's not happening now," he says, "but it is possible."
Mador is hoping Connecticut's General Assembly will prohibit fracking and follow New Jersey's lead in banning in-state treatment or storage of fracking waste.
There's no fracking going on in New Jersey but lawmakers there were worried they could end up with waste water and chemicals from Pennsylvania wells.
"I think both [fracking and fracking waste disposal] are legitimate concerns," Mador argues. "The waste-water issue may come sooner than fracking."
New York officials are now looking at allowing fracking in potentially lucrative natural gas-shale deposits in that state, and the question of what to do with waste water and chemicals from the process is part of the debate.
Experts say most drilling companies that use fracking try to dispose of the millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals at or near the well sites. Complaints about pollution from wastes that have been put through sewage treatment plants or released into streams now have the feds reviewing the whole disposal issue.
Vermont has banned fracking because of the potential for groundwater pollution.
Guveyan doesn't think a fracking ban is needed because there's so little chance of it ever happening here. He is also opposed to prohibiting treatment or recycling of fracking waste in Connecticut.
"What's wrong with that?" Guveyan asks. "Recycling is good." He points out that recycling those kinds of wastes will also prevent them from being dumped in the wrong places that could lead to ground water pollution.
He also argues that banning fracking waste treatment in Connecticut could cost companies here business and jobs.
One problem is that even when fracking waste is treated or recycled, some toxic materials will be left over and need disposal.
Mador says recycling — if it's possible — is always the best thing to do. But he has serious doubts that it is feasible with the huge amounts of waste water and chemicals that result from fracking. "I'm not aware that anybody is doing [fracking-waste] recycling," he adds.
Getting anything like a fracking ban through the General Assembly could take some time. Mador says activists haven't yet even tested the legislative waters.
"The idea is too new," he says. And fresh concepts can make Connecticut lawmakers a little uneasy.
As Mador explains, "New ideas take time to germinate."