What the Hay? Gas Drilling Wastewater Ruins Farmer's Fields

John Peters, a farmer from Arcade, New York, takes issue with the notion of “environmentally friendly” oil and gas extraction in his recent op-ed forThe Buffalo News. Listening to Governor Romney and President Obama in their second debate Wednesday, it seems that they largely buy the oil and natural gas industry’s line that their extraction techniques are always safe and benign.

In Peter’s eye-opening first-person account, he describes how hazardous wastewater from a natural gas drilling operation next to his hay fields leaked from a failed holding pond, ruining the fields he uses to feed his livestock.

The thousands of gallons of wastewater – also called “flowback” or “produced” water – that gushed up from the well’s borehole is a toxic mixture of drilling fluids and subterranean groundwater that must be securely stored.

After four days of heavy rain, the shoddy construction of the “small poly-lined pond” was apparent when it broke and the waters flooded his fields and those of a neighbor, according to Peters.

Then, to my surprise, an engineering firm hired by the drillers stopped by. His [the engineer’s] conclusion agreed with the Wyoming County study. My hay field was ruined by the company’s own drillers. The engineer’s recommendation: Build a storm retention pond and release the water slowly through the new roadway. The storm water retention pond was never built.

Finally it dawned on me. No one would help me. Not the drilling company. Not the Oil and Gas Association that represents the drilling company. Not my own town government, not even the state agency that gave the driller a license to ruin my hay field.

Now I am buying hay at $8 a bale for my cattle – many times more than the costs to grow my own hay. I have hired a lawyer and I am suing the drillers.

Without question, fossil fuels are important to our contemporary society and economy. Yet when the oil, natural gas and coal industries claim that there are few if any problems with extraction and combustion of their respective fuels, we should question those assertions. There are serious health and environmental risks associated with each fuel. Not every accident is as massive and headline-grabbing as the 2010 BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. Many are small-scale, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, farm-by-farm mishaps like the one John Peters experienced with his property. These localized events need to be kept in mind as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) expands oil and gas extraction ever closer to human proximity, be it farms, towns or even urban areas.

As Peters writes, “The next time you are tempted to believe the oil and gas industry propaganda, stop by my farm for a dose of reality.”