Friday, November 18, 2011

Roads and trucks for natural gas

A big topic in state politics lately has been high- hydraulic fracturing, in which water and lubricants are transported by diesel-powered tanker trucks on narrow country roads to a drilling site, then pumped into an underground layer of shale, breaking apart the rock and releasing methane. The methane floats to the surface, where it is captured and pumped into "natural gas" pipelines. From these it is burned for heating or in electrical generators.

This "hydrofracking" is being heavily promoted by a group of businessmen and women who stand to profit and politicians who want to be able to take credit for delivering "jobs" to high-unemployment areas. They claim that it's "safe" and "clean," even though the lubricants and methane have contaminated water supplies in the past.

Beyond the health risks, though, this is an incredibly inefficient way to generate electricity. A leaked draft report by the New York State Department of Transportation" - not the most conservative bunch when it comes to roads - estimates that "the Marcellus region will see a peak year increase of up to 1.5 million heavy truck trips, and induced development may increase peak hour trips by 36,000 trips/hour." The report says that it will cost $210 to 378 million a year to resurface the roads - and often widening them, of course - to accommodate these trucks.

Alan Chartock is fond of saying that fracking will not be worth it "if one little girl gets sick from drinking water laced with benzene," but what if one little girl gets run over on a road that's been widened for the fracking trucks? With that many new trips I'm guessing it won't be just one, either.

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