Column: T. Boone Pickens’ drilling plans overlook critical issue
By Francis P. Koster
For the Salisbury Post
T. Boone Pickens spoke recently in Charlotte about his plan to get the United States out of the energy mess we are in. He was correct when he said we import around 60 percent of our oil, much from people who don’t like us, and this importation is a huge national security risk. He was correct when he said we had the worlds’ largest reserves of natural gas, and he was correct when he said that this natural gas, coupled with wind and solar energy, could be our salvation, both economically and from a national security point of view. And he is right when he talks about the need for a national grid to move energy from one place to another.
He was not correct when he said that drilling for all this natural gas was risk free to the nations’ water supply. On this point I am afraid he is just wrong. Drilling natural gas wells cheaply requires injecting large amounts of chemicals into the wells. I am in favor of his plan ó but not without more care given to protecting our nation’s underground water.
To replace imported oil with natural gas would require us to have somewhere around a million working gas wells in the continental United States. Think of it as somewhere around a million places in the USA where we would deliberately pump in chemicals underground and through, or near, our water supplies. Mr. Pickens spoke of the oil and gas industry having used these chemicals for over 50 years with “no problems.” Not so.
According to the Dr. Theo Colbern, an expert in the field, of the 124 soluble chemicals used in natural gas extraction, 88 percent of them cause damage to skin and sensory organs such as eyes, 75 percent are linked to respiratory damage, and 45 percent cause neurological damage. Others cause immune disorders, and are linked to diseases such as Lupus.
After returning home from Mr. Pickens’ speech, I easily located a story saying U.S. government scientists have found these chemicals in water taken from 11 of 39 wells tested in Wyoming. Another story talked about six counties near the Louisiana border, where two injection wells were found to have contaminated the local drinking water. Water tests confirmed that residential water was contaminated with barium, toluene, benzene and other toxic chemicals. Another story was about an injection well in Repton, Ala., which contaminated local water wells causing illness in many residents. Many more stories existed ó all created when we drilled far less than one million wells.
Of the many issues confronting our national security, and nation’s health, surely clean drinking water is high on the list.
I admire Mr. Pickens, and his diagnosis of our national oil illness. His prescription is mostly right on target. After a successful career in drilling for oil and gas, we need to take his opinion seriously on those topics. But when he speaks of the public health, and safe drinking water, it would probably be wise to consult experts in those fields.
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Francis P. Koster lives in Kannapolis.