SHIPPINGPORT, Pa. - Despite concerns associated with nearby seismic activity, officials do not foresee any problems with Chesapeake Energy's plans to frack within 1 mile of the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station.
"We would not have granted the permit if we did not think it was safe. Considering the depth at which they are drilling, there should not be any problem," said John Poister, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. "They will be working at a depth at least 1 mile underground, so this should not create a problem."
The nuclear plant - operated by FirstEnergy Corp. - is located in Pennsylvania along the Ohio River, roughly 10 miles east of East Liverpool and Chester along the Ohio River. According to company information, nuclear power has been generated at the site since 1957.
FRACKING CONTINUES — As Chesapeake Energy continues drilling and fracking gas wells in Ohio County, the company is preparing to break ground within 1 mile of the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant in Shippingport, Pa. - Casey Junkins
Chesapeake works across West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Company employees, or subcontractors working on Chesapeake's behalf, drill and frack wells all the time.
Stacey Brodak, senior director of corporate development for Chesapeake, directed all questions to DEP and FirstEnergy officials, noting Pennsylvania regulators "have a rigorous regulatory review process for all permitting."
"While we do not expect any impact from an oil and gas production well near the Beaver Valley station, our robustly designed and constructed facilities are built to withstand a wide variety of issues with considerable margin, including potential seismic events, which is the concern often cited with hydraulic fracturing," said FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young.
Pennsylvania is home to the worst accident in the history of U.S. commercial nuclear power. On March 28, 1979, a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant - caused by a sequence of equipment malfunctions, design-related problems and worker errors - released small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment.
Although fracking, which pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the earth at high pressure to break shale rock, has not been proven to cause earthquakes, there are some potential links. After a swarm of small earthquakes hit north-central Arkansas near a formation called the Fayetteville shale last year, the state issued a temporary moratorium last year on new injection wells. The state found that three wells were operating near an unknown fault and were likely contributing to earthquakes. State officials shut those wells and banned future ones near the fault.
In April 2010, a 3.4-magnitude earthquake hit Braxton County, W.Va. In a span of several months, the area was hit by five more such quakes. The quakes were small - about a 2.7 magnitude - but large enough to catch the attention of state officials. Some speculated these quakes might be related to nearby fracking, but West Virginia University geology professor Tim Carr said he believed they occurred naturally.
According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an earthquake would cause nuclear power plant structures on or in the ground to move. The nature of the movement depends on how the earthquake releases energy and location. The intensity of an earthquake can be characterized by both the frequency of the shaking and by the acceleration of the ground at the plant.
Furthermore, Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials said that the injection of gas-drilling wastewater into a brine disposal well near Youngstown almost certainly induced a dozen small earthquakes last year. To help prevent future problems at other injection wells, state regulators now require well operators to follow more comprehensive safety plans.
Also, some research shows that fracking can release radioactive radium and uranium from the ground. Radium that is swallowed or inhaled can accumulate in a person's bones. Long-term exposure increases the risk of developing several diseases, such as lymphoma, bone cancer and diseases that affect the formation of blood, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.