Senator Ives: We Can’t Lose Our Water Independence

Kathleen O'Connor Ives
State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives

By: State Senator Kathleen Ives (D) Newburyport
October, 2013

Last week, I gave testimony before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of two important pieces of legislation before the committee. I spoke in support of House Bill 695, “An Act Preventing the Disposal of Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater” and House Bill 707, “An Act to Regulate Hydraulic Fracturing.”

I gave public testimony because I wanted to express my strong interest in preventing the practice of fracking or the storage of fracking chemicals in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Our state is in the enviable position of being able to observe and learn about environmental destruction and water pollution caused by fracking in other states before it is introduced to Massachusetts.

Hydraulic fracking fractures rock by the use of a pressurized liquid comprised of water and chemicals and is injected into land borings so gas migrates into the well. This process intensely uses water to the rate of 1.2-3.5 million gallons of water per well, diverting water from other human demands. Fracking subjects people to pollution exposure through surface spills, air pollution, the migration of gases to the surface and contaminated water.

The quality of our drinking water is of major importance. Many residents in the state use well water, while others use municipal or state water supplies, all are equally vulnerable to chemical pollution if fracking is introduced to Massachusetts.

House Bill 695 defines hydraulic fracturing and prohibits any person in Massachusetts from being permitted to collect, store, dispose of, or treat wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. House Bill 707, also defines hydraulic fracturing, as well as class II injection wells and toxic chemicals. It prohibits class II injection wells in connection with hydraulic fracturing and prohibits the use of toxic chemicals in connection with the extraction of natural gas.

I signed onto this legislation because it’s more environmentally and fiscally prudent to address the matter of fracking now – before we have to respond to proposals. A June 2012 US Geological Survey study indicated the existence of natural gas, accessible through the fracking process, under segments of our Pioneer Valley. Where these reserves are smaller than those currently being extracted in other states, Massachusetts will inevitably be vulnerable to fracking when those larger reserves are depleted. Preventing the destruction of our quality drinking water is a great deal less costly than spending public monies on cleaning contaminated land and water, or having to build and retrofit water plants to serve residents who can no longer use their well water.

It is also important to include with a ban on fracking, a ban on fracking chemicals being stored or deposited in Massachusetts. Our state is in close proximity to states in the midst of an unfortunate fracking boom and we need to take measures to discourage industry creep into Massachusetts. We cannot prevent the migration of pollution from fracking into Massachusetts waters, but we can ban fracking and the storage of fracking chemicals in our state.

The chemicals used for fracking are a slurry of elements which include water, proppants such as silica, and chemical additives. Of the 2500 hydraulic fracturing products in the industry, 650 contain chemicals categorized as known or possible human carcinogens. Over 200 of these products have components listed as a “trade secret” on their OSHA material safety data sheets. Slurry pools often sit in close proximity to the site and are an additional threat to our natural resources. In Dimock, Pennsylvania, it has been estimated that one gas company has spent upwards of $109,000 for methane removal systems for 14 households that were affected by natural gas seepage into their drinking water. An additional $193,000 was spent by the company on potable replacement water for residents in the affected areas over the course of two years.

In 2004, an accident at a hydraulic fracturing well in Colorado caused seepage of natural gas into the West Divide Creek, a major watershed for the county. Two years after the initial accident, the company reported paying upwards of $350,000 to replace residential water in a two-mile radius of the site.

We have heard the pitch from this relatively new and burgeoning industry – that the benefits of cheaper natural gas and energy independence outweigh the risks and costs of fracking. However, I contend that if we poison our valuable and finite water supply, we are simply shifting to a new problem of no longer having affordable drinking water and water independence. We can do better and this legislation takes the bold action necessary to settle this question in Massachusetts.

I will continue to advocate for these bills so that we may put this critical legislation into law. Massachusetts can be a leader on this matter and hopefully, other states will take similar action. Massachusetts drinking water is a public resource we as residents have the right to protect. It’s important to the health and well being of our families as well as our state and local economy.