Environment

Residents expressed concerns this week that the potential expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Kentucky would pollute the water and air and bring earthquakes to the region.

About 50 people attended the “listening session” held Thursday evening by the state Energy and Environment Cabinet in Somerset. Xyara Asplen was one of several people calling for a moratorium on fracking.

“Implement a moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing until such a time as it can be demonstrated that the risk to our health, our homes and the quality of life for our families is worth the benefits to those few who will profit,” she said at the meeting.

Asplen says her family was approached by representatives of Lexington Energy, a Utah-based company that has been securing leases on land in Eastern Kentucky.

Interest in Eastern Kentucky’s Rogersville Shale has increased as test wells recently showed the potential for “vast reserves” of gas trapped in shale deep below the surface.

So far, the major fracking plays have been in Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio, but the process has mostly been absent from Kentucky.

The process involves drilling down into the earth and injecting water, sand and chemicals to release gas from shale formations up sometimes over two miles underground.

And though the EPA earlier this year released a study that found no widespread drinking water pollution from the process, many citizens at the meeting were concerned that Kentucky’s porous limestone rock and cave formations would lend themselves to far-reaching contamination from fracking.

Also, some of the residents who spoke said they worried that fracking would lead to a spike in seismic events. Such events in Oklahoma and Texas have been linked to the underground disposal of “flowback” water, a byproduct of the fracking process.

J.P. Brantley, a member of environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, pointed to news reports that linked fracking to increased traffic in rural areas leading to overtaxed infrastructure and crumbling roads.

“Their primary concern is making money. The land, people and communities affected by fracking are at best secondary for them,” Brantley said.

Reports of land agents working to secure mineral leases for energy companies have increased this year. At the forum on Thursday evening, Kentucky Environmental Foundation program director Craig Williams said landowners have been asked to sign contracts without even reading them.

“This can only be viewed as an indication of how landowners will be treated if fracking does occur in these areas,” Williams said.

Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman Dick Brown said after the meeting that there’s been an increase in “land men who are out trying to purchase leases, betting on the future.”

“Unfortunately we have no ability to regulate that. That’s not our purview,” Brown said. “Our advice to people is if someone approaches them, don’t ever sign anything unless you know what’s in it and consult an attorney.”

The state legislature recently passed regulations on the fracking industry including water quality testing, disclosure of chemicals injected underground in the process and a requirement for companies to reclaim land around injection sites.

Another “listening” session will take place in Hazard on July 30.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.