When it comes to Fracking in Ohio, no one, in my opinion, has covered the topic better than Karl Henkel of the Youngstown Vindicator.
It’s not a simple issue and most people – including reporters in Ohio and nationally – have a very limited understanding of the process and the players. Henkel has shown, on multiple occasions, that he is willing to put in the time to understand the details, as well as the macro-aspects of the topic, and he’s willing to dig through the data to provide his readers with unique insights that we haven’t seen anywhere else.
His piece on Friday about fracking chemicals being pumped into the ground in Ohio provides a clear example of the extra work Henkel is willing to do for his readers.
fracfocus.org is a website that provides information, voluntarily provided by fracking companies, about the chemicals used in their wells during the fracking process.
Henkel dug into the details on fracfocus for the Coniglio well in Carroll County, which is owned Chesapeake Energy, the largest oil and gas well operator in Ohio, and revealed the incredible amount stuff being pumped into it.
For example, he reports that 5 million gallons of water are being pumped into the ground just at this one well, adding that this is “slightly more than a golf course would use in a midsummer week”.
Karl does a good job providing context for his data, but some of his comparisons, like the golf course one, could use a little more clarification.
How many people really know how much water a golf course uses in a week?
A better comparison, in my opinion, would be the amount of water used on the average household lawn. And when you look at the data from that perspective, the numbers are actually kind of shocking.
A ½-inch diameter garden hose delivers 5 to 8 gallons of water per minute. Assuming your sprinkler system is at the high end of this scale, using the full 8 gallons per minute, and assuming you water your lawn for an hour each day, it would take you 10,416 days to use the same amount of water that went into this well. That means you would have to water your lawn every day of the year, winter, spring, summer and fall, for 28.5 YEARS to use the amount of water that goes into a single fracking well!
More importantly, they are also including 18,000 gallons of additives in this same well. According to Henkel, this is “enough to fill a large, round backyard pool.” To put this in terms our hipster readers can understand, this is 192,000 12 oz cans of PBR!
And the chemicals we’re talking about here are not all standard household type stuff, and they certainly aren’t standard household amounts.
One of my favorite comparisons used by Henkel is for ethylene glycol, a chemical used in diaper cream. According to Karl, “The 38 gallons of ethylene glycol is enough to help make more than 1,600 3-ounce bottles of Burts Bees Baby Bee Diaper Ointment.” Now THAT is something people can relate to. At least people with babies with diaper rash.
But a lot of the chemicals injected into the ground are much more dangerous.
For example 5,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid, “enough to fill 500 average bathtubs”, was used in just this one well. HCL is “corrosive to skin” and is “so severe that workers evacuate from the work place shortly after detecting its odor”.
And the “22 gallons of methanol”? Henkel mentions it’s so toxic that “if consumed in even the tiniest portions” it “can be deadly to humans.” Wikipedia provides a little more detail: “as little as 10 mL of pure methanol can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve, and 30 mL is potentially fatal.” 22 gallons of pure methanol is enough to permanently blind 8,327 people!
This stuff is so dangerous, in fact, that it can kill you if you drink it, breath it in or even just get it on your skin. With something this dangerous, I suppose it worth asking if we SHOULD be trying to maintain a balanced perspective on the topic. But I’ll deal with that in another post.
When reporting on something as contentious as fracking, you’re likely to annoy or straight up anger people on one or both sides of the debate regardless of what you write. And that’s probably true with this piece as well. He uses the industry golf course figures, which will likely annoy anti-fracking “fracktivists”, but he also discusses the horrible poisonous chemicals used in the fracking process, which the oil and gas industry likes to downplay. Ultimately, Henkel’s piece on fracking chemicals is balanced and it attempts to be fair. My only complaint: he missed a great opportunity to discuss things in terms of PBR cans. Thankfully, we’re here to help.