Chattanooga could be a hotspot for fracking

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — New state rules for hydraulic fracturing of rock to release natural gas have come about as interest builds in tapping the Chattanooga Shale formation.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported a half-dozen drilling companies have looked at property leases and mineral rights in Hamilton County. A spokeswoman with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said no permits have been granted and none are pending locally for the so-called “fracking” method of drilling.

Industry officials say fracking does not endanger the water supply and say there is a lot of hysteria about the practice.

But Henry Spratt, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga biology professor, was preparing Monday to speak to a Sierra Club meeting about his concerns. Spratt pointed to Pennsylvania, where he said some wells are so polluted they can catch fire.

“Sure, there’s potential good for getting the gas out of the ground. But if you have one well that’s messed up, then that whole area is messed up for a long time,” Spratt said,

John Bonar, general manager of Atlas Entergy Tennessee, said hydraulic fracturing is not a new method and has been proven useful.

“Between 1 million and 2 million wells have been fracked since 1947,” Bonar said. “It’s a rare event when there’s a problem. … We’re trying to get gas out of the ground. We don’t want to lose it (in a water body or the air.) It’s not in our interest to see it leak off.”

What is relatively new is the ability to drill horizontally.

In hydraulic fracturing, water or nitrogen gas is pumped into the shale deposit to break the rock and free gas trapped in it.

Tennessee’s new rules don’t require drillers to test wells or notify neighbors unless they pump in more than 200,000 gallons of water, according to Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network.

Regulators have acknowledges fracking most wells in Tennessee would require about 175,000 gallons of water.

Anne Davis and Gwen Parker, attorneys with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the new rules came about as the state was streamlining regulatory agencies within the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

“On Sept. 20, the oil and gas board approved rules and then ceased existence and was merged with the water board as of Oct. 1, so it’s now the water and oil and gas board,” Davis said.

The law center has challenged the rules in a letter to the Tennessee attorney general.

“We hope the attorney general will send them back to what will now be the water, oil and gas board, and that some more protective rules will be adopted,” Davis said.

The question is still under review.