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Winter 2011 Issue of the Finger Lakes Sierran

Overlooked Dangers of Drilling

by Gene Stolfi
Member, Finger Lakes Group Executive Committee
Member, Steuben County Environmental Management Council

When a well is first drilled, before the outer casing and inner casing and cement is put in place, drilling fluid to lubricate the drill bits and flush out the mud and rock is injected into every soil layer. This fluid typically contains petroleum products and chemicals.

During the initial Trenton Black River drilling, homes with wells near the drill sites had their wells contaminated. Because of lack of information on water testing the homeowners had to treat the well water at their own expense. When the gas company was approached, the standard answer was-if you did not have a certi­fied test done before drilling started—the condition was probably pre-existing. When landowners were first approached to sign leases, and asked for guarantees that their wells would not be contaminated, the land agents stated they could not guarantee this.

After 6 years the contamination in one homeowners well in Chemung County began to subside—probably because the contaminants were migrating further away and being diluted by new water from the aquifer.

The Trenton Black River wells are few and far apart. Marcellus drilling relies on progressive fracturing and pushing gas with many wells closely spaced, this includes the use of very high pressures, fracking fluids and explosions to stimulate the shale.

The cumulative effect of many wells, pressure, and surface spills as well as blow back of fracking fluids up the outside of the outer pipe around the cement plug will leach into ground water and aquifers. The government agencies need to monitor these numbers and prevent contamination of our greatest resource, our unlimited supply of fresh, clean drinking water could disappear and we would have to pay to clean up and process drinking water for the entire east coast. This could cost more than all the money extracted from the ground in gas. When ground water is polluted it takes hundreds of years to clean itself; if it can clean itself.