For one thing, gas companies will have to use safer drilling fluids that are not composed of toxic chemicals and carcinogens, Allstadt said. “And there would have to be no exemptions!” Right now gas companies enjoy special exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws.
Allstadt proposed that drillers use some kind of marker – either colored fluid or an isotope – to tag their fracking fluid. “That’s one way to hold companies accountable for any leaks or spills they cause,” he said.
He also stressed the importance for conducting a seismic review of the well before fracturing. This would help drillers identify cracks and fissures that might provide pathways for toxins to migrate to aquifers.
“We need better casing standards,” Allstadt emphasized. Casing integrity is vital to protecting groundwater from drilling contamination – something the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection has noted in their newest regulations. In addition to improving the quality of cement, Allstadt pointed out that drillers must check the casings prior to fracking.
“If there is any question about cement integrity, then don’t frack,” Allstadt said.
Drillers need contingency plans, too. Allstadt noted that at a recent blow-out in PA, the blow-out preventer didn’t work. Whether it is drilling a relief well or flaring gas, workers need to have a strategy in place for releasing pressure if it builds up too high, he said.
In addition to recommending tanks to hold fracking and flowback fluids (rather than pits) and better treatment of returned drilling fluids, including re-use, Allstadt pointed out the need for greater setbacks.
Currently, wells may be drilled 150 feet from a drinking water well. “But that’s too close,” Allstadt said. “We need to protect drinking water sources.”
Allstadt doesn’t believe drilling can be made as safe as airline travel – there’s just too little regulatory oversight for that, he says – he believes the industry can make it safer. But that will only happen if people push much harder for protective regulations.
Allstadt spoke at the “Real Impacts of Gas Drilling” forum held Tuesday, November 16 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Elmira. The forum was organized by People for a Healthy Environment, the Coalition to Protect New York, the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, and Pax Christi Upstate New York.