A guest submission from radio producer-journalist Sandra Sleight-Brennan of Stewart in southeastern Ohio.
Here is what she sent along:
Below is an article I have researched over the last month. I'm hoping you will consider publishing it. In speaking with elected officials, regulatory agencies, and citizens in general, I've found that many of the topics discussed in the article are unthinkable to American citizens.
We assume that our national and state laws protect us and our children. But there are so many holes in the oil and gas regulations that the loopholes are big enough to drive a bus through. The story below points out some of them.
A Fracking Truck Accident We Hope Will Never Happen
The following scenario hasn’t happened...yet!
Tuesday. The temperature was beginning to drop and the sleet was turning to snow. School officials at Federal Hocking School District in rural Athens County let school out early, to get the kids home safely before the roads iced up.
Bus #10 was travelling south on State Rt. 144. The gently rolling 2-lane follows the Hocking River south as it meanders its way to the Ohio River a dozen miles downstream. The middle schoolers in the back were creating chaos, as usual. The driver looked in his rear view mirror and yelled again for the troublemakers to sit in their seats. It was when he looked back through the windshield that he first saw the tanker truck coming towards him. The curvy road was slick. The truck was coming fast and was left of center. He tried to make some room for it, but there was nowhere to go.
... When Susan first opened her eyes, she felt like she was in a dream - a bad one. Where was she? Her eyes focused and she realized she was on the bus, but it was on its side and Bernie, the bus driver, was crumpled in his seat, there was blood on his forehead.
Others were beginning to come out of their shock as well. There were moans and crying. Kids looked at each other to see if everyone was OK. It seemed that almost everybody was - but how were they to get off the bus? It had turned on its side and the door was against the ground. Bernie was unconscious. Some of the older kids were trying to help him by pressing a shirt against the blood on his head. Some of the older boys were trying to open the rear emergency door but it appeared to be jammed
The tanker had jack knifed and it too was on its side. It had cracked open and liquid was pouring out, across the road and into the river. There was a new injection well on this road and the truck was headed there with its load of liquid fracking waste that had been used to frack a deep-shale horizontal well in West Virginia. The driver appeared to be unconscious.
“Who’s got a cell phone?” asked Dan T., a junior. “I already tried to get service,” said Helen G., “It’s a dead zone here.” The hills often interfere with cell reception in this part of the county.
How dangerous would this be for our children and for first responders?
Are there chemicals in the fracking fluid that are dangerous to breathe? What would they do to the river?
How will first responders know what to do when they arrive? How do they find out what is in the fracking fluid? Is it dangerous to them?
I tried to get some answers.
According to Athens County Emergency Management Agency Director Fred Davis, if there were an accident the local volunteer fire department - Rome Township VFD would be the first on the scene. If hazardous chemicals were involved, the responders would call a HAZMAT team. They would have to decontaminate the kids - have them take a shower. They can’t take the contamination to a hospital. They would have to clean the ambulance, etc. He said that there should be a placard on the truck that tells what is in it. Each fire department has an emergency response guide that tells how to deal with those substances.
But, that’s not the case for trucks containing fracking fluid from the oil and gas industry. That industry is exempt from those laws.
ODNR's website says, “All registered brine haulers must have the identification number issued by the Division, the word “brine” and the name and telephone number of the hauler on the sides or rear of their trucks. All of this information must be in reflective paint and the letters on the vehicle must be no less than four inches in height. Ohio oil-field brine is tracked from ‘cradle to grave’ and all brine haulers must maintain a daily log in their trucks.”
That’s nice to know, but do first responders know that?
I asked an Athens County firefighter what they would do. He said they would keep a safe distance while they read the license plate to see who the truck was registered to. The sheriff would call that in to contact the owner to see what was in it.
If it’s after hours- then what? Who would they contact and how long would it take? Does the owner of the truck even know all the ingredients—including proprietary and radioactive deep-earth contaminants—that are in his truck and in what quantities?
Meanwhile the kids on the damaged bus are sitting in the cold and breathing in fumes. Those fumes, says Dr. Deb Cowden, an M.D. from Greene County, Ohio, could include benzene, naphthalene, formaldehyde, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and radioactive radium, barium, and strontium. Each drilling company uses a different proprietary blend, which, they claim, is a trade secret. The doctor can only get the information from the company and is not allowed to share the information. The first responders may not be able to get it at all.
What’s in the truck is important to how firefighters would handle the situation. The recent testing of waste in connection with the Mahoning River dumping case revealed “hazardous pollutants including benzene and toluene in samples from the tank and river,” according to U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach. The Marietta Times reports“ significant concentrations of barium,” a radioactive substance, in frack waste dumped into Rock Run, a tributary of the Little Muskingum.
Dr. Cowden says, “If a fracking truck caught fire, people exposed to it could get holes in their lungs from the fumes. Firefighters would have to fight the fire from upwind because benzene and xylene are toxic and they explode at low temperatures”. The children could have lifelong consequences from the exposure.
Then too, “There may be oil or gas vapors in the wastewater. That wastewater (sometimes called produced water) could cause a flash fire.” So says a Material Data Handling Sheet for “produced water” (“brine”) published by an Oklahoma company. However, in Ohio, those sheets are not required to be in the truck. A first responder would have to get the number on the truck, and go to the ODNR website to see who it was registered to.Or, if they could get the manifest out of the truck, they would know what company it was from. They would then have to call the company or go to the ODNR website to see if the company was listed there and find the MSDS sheets. There can often be 40 sheets for each company under the ODNR system.
The Oklahoma MSDS says, “The fire should burn out fairly rapidly depending on the amount of oil and natural gas condensate floating on the surface of the produced water. First responders should promptly isolate the scene by removing persons from the vicinity of the incident if there is a fire.”
If the children are on a bus where there is no cell phone service, it might take five minutes before another vehicle comes by, and then that person would have to go to a place with phone reception. By the time the local volunteer firefighters answered the call and arrived at the scene it would have been at least 30 to 45 minutes after the accident.
“The suggested way to deal with this type of fire,” says the Material Handling Data Sheet I read, “tell them to not extinguish flames at leak because of the possibility of an uncontrolled re-ignition exists. If it is safe to do so, cut off fuel supply and/or allow fire to burn out. If the leak or spill has not ignited, water spray or ventilation can be used to disperse the vapors.” The fire should be put out with dry chemical powder, foam, or carbon dioxide (CO2).
Firefighters are told to wear appropriate protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus. But the kids on the hypothetical bus don’t have protective gear.
This hasn’t happened yet, but it could. This particular road has 24 school buses a day that travel on it. The proposed injection well can take 1200 barrels (50,400 gallons) of “brine” a day. That means as many as 15 brine trucks could be on this road each day.
This is just one injection well site. There are 207 injection wells in Ohio opearting and proposed. Applications are pending for many more. We need to ask our elected officials how our children, our first responders, and our communities can be prepared. Is this industry worth the risk?
Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.
Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.
Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.
The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.
Earthjustice, a national eco-group.
People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.
Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.
No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.
Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.
Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.
Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.