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Fracking debate heats up in Commonwealth

Date: 10/10/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – A representative of the petroleum industry roundly criticized a new study released on the practice of “fracking” and a call for a legislative ban in the Commonwealth on the technique of producing natural gas last week.

Responding to a report entitled “Fracking by the Numbers” released by Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, Stephen Dodge, associate director of the Massachusetts Petroleum Council said to Reminder Publications, “There is no interest. The reserves just don’t exist [in Massachusetts].”

Ben Hellerstein, a field associate for Environment Massachusetts, released the report locally and called the process “a highly polluting industrial process.”

“Fracking” – hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – is a way to extract natural gas from shale deposits underground. To harvest the gas, a combination of water, sand and chemicals is pumped underground. According to the report, results of the 80,000 natural gas wells created by fracking in 17 states has resulted in the use of toxic chemicals, the release of thousands of tons of air pollution, the conversion of forests and rural areas into industrial zones and the creation of billions of gallons of wastewater.

Nationally, he added, “The numbers on fracking add up to a public disaster.”

He said his organization is calling on a ban in Massachusetts to prevent the practice before gas companies come here.

Hellerstein said there has been a “hot debate for a long time” in New York over allowing fracking in that state.

Dodge charged the proposed ban on Massachusetts is just a way to put political pressure on the New York legislature to ban fracking there.

To support his argument, Dodge referenced the Massachusetts Geological Survey, which reports on its website (, “To our knowledge, no companies have expressed any interest in exploring for or developing shale gas in Massachusetts. In addition, to our knowledge no well driller has requested certification from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP) to drill any well within Massachusetts other than water, monitoring, and geothermal wells. All well drillers are required to be certified by regulation with MADEP before they are allowed to drill any wells in Massachusetts ... Based on a survey of all available scientific data, the geologic conditions in the Connecticut Valley in Western Massachusetts are not optimum for shale gas development. Black shale units in the Hartford Basin are generally too thin, laterally discontinuous, and are cut by too many pre-existing natural fractures and extinct faults. This makes extraction of hydrocarbons economically not feasible with today’s technology at current market prices. However, more data need to be collected to completely rule out that possibility ... In addition, oil and gas wells used for conventional or enhanced hydrocarbon recovery are defined as Class 2 wells under the Massachusetts Underground Injection Control Regulations. Class 2 wells are currently prohibited in the Commonwealth.”

Dodge said, “I’ve never seen an issue that has been more misrepresented.”

He noted that about 70 percent of the natural gas used in the United States is coming from wells created by fracking. “No doubt fracking has to be heavily regulated,” Dodge said.

“As we wean ourselves off dirty coal and oil, we embrace natural gas. We just don’t like where it comes from,” Dodge said. He added the process is not new but has been around for 60 years.

He was puzzled by Hellerstein’s statement that wastewater from fracking is being trucked to water treatment facilities in adjoining states, as he explained that 90 percent of the water used in the process is recycled. The solution injected into the shale is about 90 percent water, 9 percent sand and 0.5 percent chemicals.