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Breaking: Fracking in the Valley?

Geologists have discovered natural gas in the Pioneer Valley; activists fear environmentally dangerous drilling will ensue.

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Friday, November 16, 2012
American Ground Water Trust
Natural gas has been discovered beneath the Hartford Basin

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Late this summer, the U.S. Geological Survey announced that it had located several new veins of natural gas in the eastern U.S. One, known as the Hartford (Connecticut) Basin, extends well into Western Massachusetts.

And so the possibility of fracking in the Valley arises. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a method widely used to extract natural gas. Water containing chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and benzene is pumped into the natural structures, such as shales, that house the gas, creating pressure that releases it.

In states where a great deal of natural gas extraction has been done, fracking has been shown to cause devastating environmental effects, including pollution of air and groundwater. Landowners who signed leases with gas companies wanting to extract gas on their property have had serious problems; well pollution, odors, and leases that renew themselves automatically so the landowners find themselves unable to terminate their dealings with the extractors, are only the short list.

On December 13, a conference organized by a group of engineers and industrialists calling itself the American Groundwater Trust will be held at UMass to provide a venue for discussion of what may happen when natural gas companies begin extracting gas from sites in this area. The American Groundwater Trust has staked out a position that the extraction of energy sources should not cause environmental problems, and that all “stakeholders” need to come to the table and let their concerns be known. A hint about the group's character comes from this statement on its website: "'Fracking'" has become the lightning-rod word of choice for the media whenever shale-gas development is in the news, even although [sic] the actual deep hydraulic fracture process is rarely if ever to blame for environmental problems.”

Meanwhile, the Pioneer Valley Green-Rainbow Party and the Western Massachusetts chapter of Progressive Democrats of America have organized an event entitled “Beat Back Fracking” to be held at 7 p.m. December 6 at Christ United Methodist Church, 271 Rocky Hill Rd, Northampton. For ongoing information, check www.facebook.com/events/439910469403748/

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