Pebble Mine of the East?

For a few years now, fly fishermen have been committed to stopping construction of the Pebble Mine, which threatens the salmon runs—and the entire ecosystem—of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Felt Soul Media’s film Red Gold has helped to spread the word about the potential damage that could result from an accident at such a huge mine. But even much smaller extractive practices can do irreparable harm to fish and wildlife. In recent years, oil companies have been devoting more and more resources to getting at the huge amount of natural gas stored in the Marcellus Shale formation, which lies beneath some of the more fragile brook-trout habitat in the East. A unique geological formation more that 400 million years old—stretching from Columbus, Ohio, to Albany, New York, and south into northeastern Tennessee—the Marcellus Shale doesn’t give up its natural gas easily, and this is where problems arise.

To extract the gas, companies use a process called “hydraulic fracturing” or “hydrofracturing” (“hydrofracking” for short), in which they drill thousands of feet into the earth and then pump up to 9 million gallons of water into the hole to break up the shale deposits. Guess where they get the water: By sucking it right out of streams. Four companies in Pennsylvania (where as many as 700 wells have already been drilled) have already been busted for stealing trout-stream water without permits and forced to pay fines totaling $1.7 million. Of course, such a number is just a rounding error for these companies, and once they paid up, they were issued permits to carry on doing the very thing they’d been fined for.

Before the water is injected into the well, toxic chemicals are added, creating even more of an environmental nightmare. You may have heard of some of this stuff: arsenic, mercury, hydrogen sulfide, and other equally environmentally-unfriendly substances. These “hydrofracking fluids” are kept in impoundments until they can be trucked to a plant for treatment, and any kind of accidental or intentional spill would be disastrous to local waters. If you’re inclined to believe that these companies operate on a “safety-first” policy, think of the recent Gulf oil spill is a prime example of what can happen without adequate regulation and oversight of drilling operations.

There are two ways anglers can get involved. First, contact your Congressional delegation, and ask them to support the

“Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemical Act”

now moving its way through Congress. This legislation would roll back parts of the industry-friendly 2005 Energy Policy Act and force hydrofracking companies to comply with the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Trout Unlimited is also asking anglers to become stewards of their local waters. TU has launched a

pilot program

in Pennsylvania to distribute water-quality-testing kits and train locals how to use them. For more information, visit

The devastation caused by hydrofracking is detailed in a new film by Josh Fox called “Gasland,” and the film’s Web site contains lots of information and links to citizens’ groups advocating a moratorium on this destructive practice.

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