Fracking in a Floodplain

well flood
Photo by Don Williams

When American Rivers named 2011 The Year of the River, we never envisioned that the rivers would be showing themselves in such force across the country this summer. Who needs a parade when you can see cars floating down Main Street?

Our recent encounters with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee along the East Coast have really highlighted the costs that come with building in a floodplain.

Today I read a story on about the raging Susquehanna River. Apparently, the river was so worked up about being named America’s Most Endangered River™ of 2011, that it is trying to bring more attention to itself! Which leads to my next thought and the real point of this blog. The Susquehanna was listed as the #1 river this year because we are concerned about the rush to develop natural gas in the watershed. Originally we noted the potential for contamination of the water supply through spills, explosions, accidents, etc. But this recent flooding raises a whole different issue.

It is one thing for a truck to spill chemicals into a river. It is another thing for a river to flood hundreds of well sites, collect toxic chemicals, and then spread them across a broader area. Is that happening? I don’t know. Certainly the potential is there with the river rising up to 30 feet in some places, and some gas wells built within a hundred yards or less of the river.

Of course, we are always talking about the need to use smarter, 21st century floodplain management strategies. But honestly, there is not anything smart about building natural gas wells in a floodplain, That seems pretty straightforward.

In fact, Pennsylvania State Representative Phyllis Mundy (D-Kingston) introduced legislation last year to prohibit building natural gas wells and drilling in floodplains in Pennsylvania. So far, that legislation has not passed.

Hundreds of other folks who are concerned about what is happening with natural gas had a massive protest in Philadelphia this week. They called it “Shale Gas Outrage.” Many of them live and work in Pennsylvania. Will their houses be flooded with fracking fluid? I really hope not. It’s just one more thing to worry about when you are living in Gasland.